It is generally agreed that with children’s books the cover should give a clue to the story/material inside. Therefore, we see in classroom settings teachers are advised to ask the children what they think the story is about from looking at the cover (the image and the title). Covers create the excitement/motivation for children to read the book. However do some covers more than others have cultural resonance for us?
What is culture? An interesting question for which we all know the answer. One of the things we do as writers is to write about our culture, or more accurately, write from our culture. Educators and artistes talk of cultural penetration from other areas, something which we know we cannot prevent. We are a diverse people, even in the English speaking Caribbean; there are different socio-economic, ethnic and religious groups even within countries, let alone across the region. Can we say that what resonates with one group/territory will resonate with another? This is why research on children’s book covers would be interesting. If I hadn’t done my MEd. already I’d do it. My MEd. study focused on the use of Caribbean children’s story books in the classroom. You may not be surprised to hear that most of the books I took into the schools had never been seen by the teachers before. (This speaks to distribution and exposure). They loved them. They wished they had access to them. They especially liked the fact that the books were about their/the children’s lives. Perhaps another blog should be written on this, as I am sure that they have no greater access to Caribbean books than they did in 2002/3.
As we discussed the importance of cultural relevance of the material, one teacher said an interesting thing. She said Bible stories, European nursery rhymes and European folktales are also part of our culture. Her reasoning was this. This material is what we have been exposed to, have read/heard from we were little. So here is another point of view on culture. In that regard, is the exposure to computer generated images/games, etc. part of the culture of the modern child. Is there a world culture as different from universal human values? I share this with you for consideration and further discussion. If so, then writing for children in the Caribbean must reflect the distinctive/different culture of each country even as it embraces what is current/global. So we may tell about Maroons blowing the abeng, but a contemporary story will have someone using a cell phone (a smart phone?) - perhaps a rather extreme comparison. In fact, I was watching a local choir competition on TV; that particular part of the competition was for folk songs. One of the judges said that this was an important experience for these teenagers, as many of them did not know the relevance of folk songs to their culture and their lives. That had never occurred to me. They have grown up with an entirely different music.
So having put all those variables on the table I have tried to select some covers which I think may resonate culturally. I stand corrected on any of my choices, especially if they are from other territories. Bear in mind also, that what persons from countries outside of the region think our covers should look like may not resonate with us, may not evoke much emotion in us.
Barbados, cricket; Trinidad, steel pan; Jamaica, going for gold! Is this all stereotyping? Mind you, I doubt cricket or steel pan would evoke great emotion here. And of course these covers are from books for the younger age group, not for the age group that would be attracted to Island Princess in Brooklyn. Definitely there is room for further study.
Further information on these books, Cricket is My Game, by Jason Cole, Little Lion Goes for Gold, by Kellie Magnus and Boy Boy and the Magic Drum, by Machel Montano may be found on previous blogs.