Quotation: Writing for kids is profoundly important
This is what children’s author Lois Lowry, author of The Giver which won the Newberry Medal for American children’s literature in 1994, said in an interview published by the Huffington Post, 10/5/12. Early on I came to realize something and it came from the mail I received from kids. That is kids at the pivotal age, 12, 13 or 14, they’re still deeply affected by what they read, some are changed by what they read, books can change the way they feel about the world in general. I don't think that's true of adults as much. I'm an adult, I read, I'm no longer going to be changed by it. I think writing for kids is profoundly important.
Do we in the Caribbean believe this? Do we in Jamaica believe this? There is, I think, an important difference between these two questions, because I suspect that for whatever reason, we read less than other peoples in the Caribbean. Please prove me wrong. One could of course ask if we value our children, much less consider what is important reading for them, but at this time this would perhaps be a profoundly provocative question and not lead us in any worthwhile direction. I think the better question would be do we know how to care for our children? And then perhaps we might find that the answer is that we do indeed care for our children as well as anyone else in the world does. Have you seen on a morning children walking to school or being walked to school by their parents, in sparkling, ironed uniforms, starched, brushed, combed, (boys in long pants already) and looking so beautiful and proud? We believe profoundly in going to school, in education.
The curriculum has been rewritten many times at all levels and is totally suited to the Caribbean. This has been so since I was teaching, and so no longer do we suffer the curriculum of my school days, which even then had introduced one term of Caribbean history (Ah! What joy! What information before unknown!) and there was an ancient geography book which had us roaring with laughter at the ‘description of natives (us) dancing on beans’. We were wise beyond our years! But where is the local children’s literature today? Of course, there are set books at secondary, some of which may be found on the Caribbean school leaving exams. But where is the embracing of the Caribbean literature by the education system so that we may read about ourselves more often than we do, not only in set books, but just in the library at school? Do we think that our children can learn anything from the books being written now? Have our adult gatekeepers read the books and recognized their worth, not only as entertaining stories, but also as self validation, points from which discussion may arise in a young people valiantly searching for themselves , as all young people do? Books allow them to work through their fears, their sources of joy, their experiences, to try on various selves. It would seem a good thing if these selves could be related to their own lives. Or do we instead leave them to the self they think they find, whether it be a ‘foreign one’, or a local one, laced with the lyrics of dancehall which are not for young people trying to find themselves? ( For we must know that adult lyrics are for adults, already found or lost)?
But, my friends, there is wonderful hope. There are teachers who are themselves writing. There is a parenting policy which encourages parents to support their children’s reading. And perhaps most of all, some of the most powerful gatekeepers in this island are the librarians. I can name some wonderful women whom I worked with, when children’s literature burst onto the stage of our young lives as writers, and these Jamaican librarians supported children’s literature magnificently. Today we still have librarians and in Jamaica there are almost 700 libraries (almost a print run.) I wonder what would happen if all the librarians throughout the Caribbean bought Caribbean books! What a something that would be! What do you think, our sister islands? I know there is no money. And foreign books are cheaper. I know! And I know that I sound dramatic, but look around you. I submit to you that we cannot afford for our young people to not find themselves in good books. We are a wonderful people when we decide to do something. (Just won in cricket!!!!) Let us decide now, before our countries are lost. Dramatic, eh! But you see, the adults that are now breaking our hearts were once children.