Saturday, May 18, 2013

Despatches: Important first! Caribbean Children's E-book


I have seen and read my first Caribbean children’s  e-book! The book is  The Mermaid Escapade by Suzanne Francis-Brown (Amazon UK). One of us has done it! Congratulations to Suzanne! You cannot imagine how excited I was to see this breakthrough. The book is YA/tweens (as this new in-between age  group is called). It’s an adventure which incorporates fantasy and fact. The fantasy is the mermaids and  other sea creatures which are linked to our own  River Mumma. The conflict for the adventure is partly that human children and mermaids should never see each other, much less interact with each other, but they do in this story. Another challenge is that seawater is infiltrating coastal rivers and wells. This could be a human catastrophe. In this story we discover that not only humans may be affected. The language is delightful, the images  well crafted – I kept being reminded of  a CD of a movie  my grandchildren watched. In other words, the writer’s images come to life without illustrations. The only illustration is the cover. Of course, we do not need images in YA or tween books, so this solves the challenge of getting illustrations into children’s e-books. The other thing I liked was the detailed, yet not intrusive, descriptions and explanations of the land where it meets the sea, the rivers as they meet the sea, the imaginary life, yet scientifically based (the fact part of the story) which is created just beneath the surface, and the workings of the groundwater  area beneath our feet. So this book takes us into our environment without having to shout ‘environment’, which is great for the target group. This accuracy in depicting an environment  is important in that it gives integrity to the story  without detracting from the fantasy elements.  I  do hope that this book makes its way not only into homes, but also into our schools.

Now, as far as I know, this is the first Caribbean children’s e-book, that is, written by a Caribbean person living in the Caribbean. This is not to detract from authors like Geoffrey Philp, who has to date two Children’s e-books with illustrations. He is a torch bearer. It’s just that when one actually resides in our islands/countries it seems more challenging to do something  like this, and therefore it requires a greater ‘shout out’.  However, if you know of others, please let me know about them, both from authors living here and in the Diaspora. I’m sure that all of us will want to take note of  these bold people and then follow where we have not yet dared to go, much as we want to. And before you say, “But what she talking about? Is easy like what to do an e-book”, then I beg you email me and offer your services because I have one almost ready – still needs illustrations (it’s a picture book), and hopefully I can afford them. That’s the other challenge, you see. But we moving forward! 

May is child month and there have been special reading days/children’s days, reading week, etc. I mentioned (on facebook, I think) seeing a photo with the Prime Minister reading to children, and we could actually see the cover of the book, and it was a local book, Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band by Jana Bent. Well I must say that there has been magnificent coverage in the press of the child month activities, of adults reading to children, and even of an author talking with children. In this case, it was another of our younger writers, Kerine Miller, author of Coop Clan (mentioned previously in posts of mine). And even though I see our authors visiting schools on facebook, it’s so important also to see them in the press, because then ‘normal people' might think that local books  are important enough for them to buy them for their children/schools. Same old same old, eh! However, I must say that I feel as if there might be a groundswell of interest in reading, perhaps even a recognition of the fact that there are Jamaican children’s writers. What a something, guys! Yes, I read at a primary school also and it was very enjoyable. Children love books, you know!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Despatches: the Jamaica Reading Association's National Reading Week and an Authors' Association

In today’s Gleaner there was an article on "National Reading Week: Improving student literacy". During the year, there are a number of  weeks/days when it seems, sponsored by various organizations,  adults read in schools,  and I am pleased that these organizations show their interest in this way. National Reading Week, implemented by the Jamaica Reading Association, runs from April 28 to May 4, and this year is sponsored by First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union (FHC). The article in today’s paper highlighted the activities at various  schools, indicating that employees will be reading at schools across the island wherever FHC has branches. What caught my eye and gladdened my heart though, was that the article stated that the official book for reading week is No Boy Like Amanda by first time author, Hope Barnett. I’m pleased on two counts; one, because it is a Jamaican book. So often we see photos of people reading books to children and they are foreign books. Of course I’m glad that they are reading any at all,  but reading a Jamaican book sends such a positive message to the child. It says,  ‘If a Jamaican can write a book, then so can I write a book; my stories matter, my life is important’. Two, choosing a book from a first time author is such a hopeful message to  all new authors. I was delighted to meet the author at the Kingston Book Festival some weeks ago as I had already bought her book. (Of course, authors can be delighted to meet other authors; like meeting a celebrity sort of thing. Indeed!) So I laud the Jamaica Reading Association.

Next news: JAMCOPY had a meeting last week to try  again to form an authors’ association. There have been many attempts over the years to form authors’ associations and they have faltered as people got discouraged,  mainly, I think, because they discovered how difficult it was to get published. One of the longest lasting organizations was the Children’s Writer Circle, founded by Billy Hall and Pat Persaud some 20 plus years ago. It was vibrant for many years and all sorts of creative ways were found to publish and sell/market books.  Some years ago when Jean Forbes, Lorise DaCosta, Hazel Campbell and I tried to revive it, it was short lived; I think because we ran in to that same problem - how to get published? This organization being formed now is  for all of us writers; children’s, adult, textbook, including journalists, website writers, etc. and editors, the too often forgotten, but essential element in the publishing process. I think that this is a good time for us to try again, because it appears that with the new technologies we can all get published if we wish; self publishing is all the rage. Mind you, the organization will not just be about writing and being published, but will be looking at issues like copyright, standards, and so on. Carole Newman, General Manager of JAMCOPY, gave a comprehensive presentation by way of a guide for us last week. Some of us  have volunteered to be on the steering committee. I’ll keep you posted, and at the very least, let you know how you can join once the organization is operational.