This is one of the challenges children’s writers face. Can we measure the effect of children’s literature on the children or the community? If a government or business puts money into sports you can see the results right away or in short order; teams win or lose, teams got through an entire competition to be overall winners, watched by their supporters; boys are kept busy doing a wonderful things (girls too), the community is galvanized, and so on. We only have to look at athletics and West Indies cricket (at last again), and the list could go on and on. A country, a region is involved, is untied. And so it should be. Sporting activities are essential for children and young people. We can think also of other things that children are exposed to; dance, music, playing in bands (some schools have wonderful steel bands), drama, where you can experience the results; science and technology (although only a relative few get involved with this), some have been successful even on the world stage.
If children read books or Caribbean children’s books could we measure the effect? No, not to the best of my knowledge. We see it when they can’t read, when the literacy rate is not high enough in a country, but is there any connection made to reading? No. In fact some have gone as far as saying that since they can’t read, if the literacy rate is not high enough, then how can we expect them to read books. I am paraphrasing here because I want us to get a broad picture rather than zeroing on things which do not advance the discussion towards a positive result. Yet many of us know that, in fact, reading improved our literacy/use of language. The more we read the better we read. Does reading about one’s own culture in fiction, validating oneself, improve self-image and self-confidence. Again the literature on children’s literature tells us this is so, but can we measure it so as to inform those here who might invest in it. I don’t know of any studies. What I do know is that without our own literature, we produce a people always looking outwards for validation, unable to solve their own problems. We know that the Europeans socialized their children with their own literature, and for good measure, so socialized us that we cannot seem to see the merit in ourselves.
Well something nice happened today. I went to the doctor. One of the nurses said, “ever since you have been coming here I’ve so admired you.”. I thought ‘am I really that nice, and wondered how many times I’d been really miserable’. She continued, “I recognize your name I read your books in school.” (The Doctor Bird Reading Series, a collection done for the Ministry of Education. So we shared the names of some of my stories (The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel, Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree) which she remembered. She and the other nurse began to talk about it (the office was by this time empty). I felt great. I don’t know how these stories affected them, but it did. I think of the policeman who remembered these stories too, especially one by one of my fellow writers, Karl Phillpotts, Why Dog Don’t Like Puss. I think of the gas station attendant who shyly told me her son was reading a book written by me at his school. We do not know what it says to them and the children about there being stories about their lives written by Jamaicans. I think it says something positive to them, but I can’t measure it. I think of the lady who emailed me to say she had so enjoyed these books in school that could I tell her how to get hold of some to share with her daughter. (You know, like sharing joy). What do we do my friends, fellow writers, educators? Join the conversation. Suggest solutions please. We know the link is there, but how do we convince others so that Caribbean books are as important to provide for a school as anything else for extracurricular activities?