Thursday, November 25, 2010

Authors! Authors! Authors! Authors!

Mrs. Carnegie and Mrs. Golding

On November 18, Veronica Carnegie launched her latest book Going Home and Other Stories, an adult book. So why am I commenting on it in a blog devoted to Caribbean children's literature? Because Mrs. Carnegie graciously asked Hazel Campbell and myself to join her at the launch, and to present some of our books to the guest speaker, Mrs. Lorna Golding, wife of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Chairman of the Jamaica Early Childhood Development Foundation.

In addition, Mrs. Golding's excellent speech contained much which spoke to our interests as children's authors, in particular the following: "In order to build a nation we have to ensure that our children get the education and exposure that they need to grow into decent and productive citizens. That education is not just what they learn in school but what they learn outside of school and what we allow them to be exposed to."

Dorothy Noel of Carlong Publishers (which has published some of our books), introduced us, thus underscoring Carlong's support for children's literature.

It was a most delightful evening. By the way, Mrs. Carnegie's stories are very humourous, with a slice of life which we recognise with delight, as you can see.

An additional pleasure was seeing Gwyneth Harold, author of Bad Girls in School, which I had highlighted in a previous post.

Mrs. Carnegie signing one of her books for Gwyneth Harold

Friday, November 19, 2010

Books with endings that make us think

A Goatboy Never Cries by Hazel D. Campbell, LMH Publishing Ltd. 2009

This is a chapter book for ages 9-12. The thing I like best about this book is that it portrays real life situations and emotions. This is excellent in a children’s book, because one of the things the reader wants to see is herself/himself in a book, and so often we forget that this includes feelings, which children may wonder if other people have. I often say that there are three different ways to end a story: 1) happily ever after - the reason we read many books; 2) unhappily, in which case most of us would prefer not to read the story; I don’t like unhappy endings for children’s or young adult books; and prefer 3) where things are resolved, that is, it may not be happily ever after, but there is a resolution, which let’s the child know that he/she has some control over life or hope for things to change in the future. In addition, usually with this kind of ending, the protagonist has grown/learns something. The ending of this book falls into the last category. At first, I was quite surprised at its frankness, and yet it is true to life, and the two main characters grow through their experiences. Stories like this are different. They give our children something to think about.

The story is told by Jillian, the third child in a family of four siblings. She has an older sister and brother and a baby sister, but the story focuses on her brother, Johnny. The family moves from Kingston proper to a new housing area which is part rural in nature. Amongst the many new things bought for the new house is a freezer. And it is the freezer, innocent as it is, which causes what happens to happen. The parents of the children see the freezer as a way of storing meat in bulk. The father therefore buys a goat to be fattened and killed, just like the chickens they keep are killed to be eaten. Johnny, who tries to do as few chores as possible, is made by his father to be responsible for looking after the goat. Predictably, Johnny is not pleased.

Then a strange thing happens. Over time Johnny becomes very fond of the goat who is called Gringo, and he and his friends (new-found in the area) spend time in the surrounding bush-land playing games with the goat. The goat has become a pet and seems to be equally fond of Johnny, following him around like a pet dog would do. Life moves idyllically along, only briefly interrupted by the usual spats between Jillian and Johnny, until the children’s father announces that the goat is now big enough to be slaughtered.

Johnny is shattered by this information, and Jillian, our narrator, all previous differences forgotten, becomes protective of him and sad for him,. Their father is unaware of the distress he has caused; and when it is explained to him he still cannot fully appreciate the problem because it was clear to all why the goat was bought. Johnny’s secret plans to save Gringo fail, and Jillian, our faithful storyteller, describes the emotional turmoil for all. A solution is presented which doesn’t satisfy the children but there is nothing they can do. The father then brings home a puppy. A reasonable resolution it would seem. However, there is a surprising ending. Jillian reports that Johnny shows no interest in the puppy. She overhears her Mummy telling her Daddy that maybe Johnny is now afraid to love another pet. Jillian’s final words on the matter (the end of the story) are telling:

It took Johnny a long time to get over the loss of his quaint pet. I sometimes wonder if he ever forgave Daddy for not keeping it. One thing I know for sure is that Johnny never again ate curry goat , or anything with mutton in it.

I felt a bit sorry for the father, even though he may not have been aware that perhaps his son had not forgiven him. Obviously one feels for Johnny who may never love a pet again and never eats curry goat again.

Stories are for enjoyment. But the best stories also leave us thinking. This story leaves both adults and children pondering human emotions, misunderstandings, being hurt, loss, forgiveness, the nature of love between different family members, as well as the love we have for pets.

This is one of the stories in the BIAJ’s new and very exciting Readers’ Choice Awards. (Check their website for further information). I would be disingenuous if I pretended that Hazel, the writer, is not a friend. She is, and having said this, I invite you to read the book and vote for it because it is a delightful book.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Publisher accepts latest children's novel; Feelings

A publisher has accepted my latest children's novel. Of course, I'm very pleased, and as befitting my sometimes dramatic nature, I've sort of gone into an energy saving mode. That is, quieting my emotional self.

So having worked on that manuscript until I thought, 'Enough! No more!' I find myself looking forward to the revisions suggested. I didn't think I'd feel like this, and it's sort of a quiet excited feeling. I feel maybe it will be like seeing it anew, and I will be able to think of all sorts of ways to integrate the suggestions. Aha! We shall see how soon that calm euphoria ends! Calm!

Interesting. When I finished it I was going to start on my next book in the Time Travel series. No, this one is not a time-travel . This is a coming-of-age. And I was actually beginning to hear the voices of my characters, feel them... Then the rains from Nicole tumbled them out of my mind. After that, watching and fretting over Tomas for over a week, dried up any creative emotions. And I was adrift with that novel, only wanting to write about 'fretting over storms and gullies', which I've already done.

So perhaps it is indeed a good time to be returning to my girl, coming of age. We'll see how we get on after all this time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Caribbean Picture Story Books: much to celebrate

These are Caribbean picture story books I've come across recently. Some of the authors are relatively young so that's excellent for Caribbean writers and Caribbean children. I think that there is publishing going on in each territory that the others are not aware of; I hope we can change that by our various organizations and, yes, by our blogs. This highlights some of the books. There is much to celebrate here.

From Barbados:

Butterflies, Beatles, Bees and Bugs written and illustrated by Jason Cole, 2002. This book is in rhyme and the illustrations are hilarious. About insects we don't like, it should make any little boy shout with delight (protagonist is a boy). Little girls too, will shriek as they enjoy the scary insects. This book moves away from the stories 'about us in the Caribbean' in that it deals with a topic which could be anywhere and which will appeal to the TV/DVD viewing generation of children.

Away to Bequia by June Stoute, illustrated by Jehanne Silva Freimane, Oraef Inc., 2007. This book is also in rhyme, great for this age group; the illustrations are bold and bright. It's about a boat trip with the extended family which consists of various ethnic groups, both aspects so much a part of Caribbean society. The children look at the stars, see birds and sea creatures. The endmatter gives additional information about things from the text and creatures seen on the trip. An environmental treat.

From Trinidad:

Boy Boy and the Magic Drum, by Machel Montano, illustrated by Kenneth Scott, Caribbean Planet Limited, 2009. This is a story about innovation, the steel pan, and saving the environment. The protagonist is a boy. The message is carried by text that sometimes imitates the sounds of the steel pan and by delightful illustrations which capture the movement of the soca music that is on the accompanying CD. Machel Montano is an well-known entertainer. Great when our entertainers turn their talents to children's books.

From Jamaica:

Little Lion Goes for Gold by Kellie Magnus, illustrated by Michael Robinson, Jackmandora, 2008. In rhyme and exceedingly funny, this is the third book in the Little Lion Series. Little Lion is a Rastafarian boy who overcomes challenges with the aid of his father. Excellent for boys because of the supportive father figure and the boy who succeeds against all odds; this time he wins a medal for his school's track team. Kellie Magnus, by developing a series, points the way for other Caribbean writers. Excellent for ongoing marketing and promotion.

Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band, by Jana Bent et al, KQC Enterprises, 2008. This book is also accompanied by a CD and the performers include Shaggy, famous entertainer, et al. Music is by "Badda Banz" - Rupert Bent 111, et al. In it creatures try to save a waterfall which is shown with a face, crying, or laughing when all the rubbish is cleared up. The illustrations are colourful; the text is in rhyme; the creatures play musical instruments. The endmatter has the words for the songs as well as a visual glossary of animals and musical instruments. The CD has the songs and the sounds of different instruments. Many talented people got together to produce this multimedia feast with its environmental message. Children love it. I've seen them recite it by heart, sing along with it, or literally almost jump into the book with excitement.

It didn't occur to me until I'd done this that we have a number of boy protagonists. Great! They are too often missing from stories. All libraries in the Caribbean should have copies of these (and other Caribbean books also). Let's support the books coming from our younger Caribbean writers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Always a revelation! Is there a missing link?

After my blog on A We Dis? Cultural Representation of the Caribbean in Children’s Books (lecture by Dr. Shelley-Robinson on images about the Caribbean in books produced abroad), Mike Morrissey sent me his article, Away with chimneys and apple trees published in the Journal of English Teachers, November 1995. I remember … it was a revelation! So I wondered how many times we have had this revelation. Michael Reckord, writing in the Sunday Gleaner of May, 26, 1985, said that in an address I had given, I spoke of our local children’s books as being ‘ mirrors for our children’. By then we had produced the Doctor Bird Reading series, local stories for our children. That we could do that was a revelation to many! And no doubt, there had been revelations before. We have written and talked so much about this matter of cultural relevance for our children in books. And each time it seems to be a revelation to those who hear.

I presented a paper at EduVision 2003. A Ministry of Education conference in Montego Bay entitled Authentic Voices: the Case for Caribbean Children’s Literature in Teacher Training Colleges. (The point being that the teachers need to be exposed to Caribbean children’s literature.) I used the words of some of our writers, like Lorna Goodison and Olive Senior, the authentic voices, whose poems speak to us across the years, poems that chronicle bits of our colonial past and therefore require us to find ourselves, validate our present and go forward. It was a revelation to the audience! People were moved, asked what they could do to help to promote children’s literature, put more children’s books into colleges and schools? I was moved! And then nothing much happened after that.

In one of my research projects for my MEd, entitled, “I will not look at books the same way again”: Teachers' Opinions About the Use of Caribbean Children’s Literature. (2003), I introduced a number of Caribbean children’s books to two very capable and creative teachers. They were unaware of the variety of Caribbean children’s books available; they enjoyed this discovery and worked wonders with the children using the books. One of the books is shown above; it was produced in the UK, but it is Caribbean and brings a new interpretation of the image of Anancy. The children loved it. It was a revelation to us all. Before you say, ‘Tchu, is only two teachers’ I would point out that we have all been into the schools and seen the libraries and book corners, and if it was ‘only two’ then there would be no need for any of the discussions that any of us are having. ‘Seen!’

When I first started running writing workshops I used to use this quote from Merle Hodge,

Books transported you always into the familiar solidity of chimneys and apple trees, the enviable normality of real Girls and Boys … Books transported you always into Reality and Rightness, which were to be found Abroad.

Thus it was that I fashioned Helen, my double. Helen wasn’t even my double …She was the Proper Me. And me, I was her shadow hovering in incompleteness.

(Crick Crack Monkey, 1973).

When I first read that it was a revelation, the capitals highlighting the importance of the rightness of things. Don’t you find it scary? You may say, ‘Tchu man, that was colonialism’. Okay! Where does the Right Me exist now? Because for many of us in the Caribbean, Reality and Rightness are still to be found in books, and we’re not in the books, or the books we are in are not getting to the children

Why should Dr. Shelley-Robinson’s lecture (although I’m glad she did it) still be a revelation in 2010, thirty plus years later? Consequently, when is the discovery of the importance of Caribbean books for Caribbean children going to stop being a revelation and become a reality? What or where is the missing link?

Summer Edward's presentation at the Anansi Conference at New York University, slides shown in her blog of October 30, comprehensively detailed reasons for this lack in/of Caribbean children’s literature.

And so I ask, what is the human element in this equation? What is the 'hidden curriculum'? Why is it always a revelation? When we have the money, why can’t we just start buying Caribbean children’s books, in abundance? What is the missing link? What do you think?