Just this last week in a focus group with at risk youth: the question was asked what books do they remember reading, at school or anywhere else? Answers: The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel and Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree. They were delighted, as was I, to find that those were written by me. Comments like, “Is she write it?” “Is you write it?” Their comments were ones of astonishment accompanied by wide smiles. I behaved appropriately – big grin and “Yes, is me!” They also added, Anancy and Cow. By that time I think they may have been just calling names they remembered, and just by chance that was one retold by me. So my day, eh, for feeling worthwhile.
Two things flow from this.
1) The first two books are always mentioned. What is it about them? Well The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel is a version of all those folk stories in which a devious woman fools up a man with her beauty and eventually he gets free of her and she gets her just punishment, which is not really just, but we must presume that if that had not happened the man would have succumbed to further entrapment. I’m sure a psychologist and a feminist could have a field day with the symbolism. Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree also speaks to a universal theme. A greedy man demands more from a tree than he needs and he gets his just punishment. So these are in keeping with the folktale themes and traditional interpretations of justice. The reader comes away satisfied that in spite of the mishaps of life and bad people, things are right in the world after all.
2) The second thing: when we were writing these books for the primary schools, (the Doctor Bird Reading Series, for grades 4-6), part of the rationale was that our children needed books to reflect their lives, books of their own, and that for some of them, these may well be the only books they will ever own. Interesting, eh! Notice, these themes are found in other stories. However these are the stories they recall; those in our setting. I’m so glad that I was part of that group that gave our children their books.
By now you all know that the Ministry of Education published these books. ( See my blogs for June 1, 9 and 17).
The Ministry also published, more recently, in 2008, Literacy 1-2-3, for lower primary and early childhood. These books are called Windows to Literacy. I was privileged to be the editor and production manager of this project. The books are beautiful. We had, as well as our better known writers, new, young writers writing for them. No, I did not write for that project. I had no time to even scratch my head, much less write. The writing/stories/non-fiction selections are delightful. The artwork, in full colour, is superb; some done by new, young artists also. Just this year I saw a little girl walking along a verandah in her school reading one of them, Molly Hopper Learns to Jump. It was that stance of ‘I have to read while I’m walking because this book cannot be put down till I’m finished reading it’. I was delighted. These books were piloted in schools. I look forward to seeing them in all our schools.
When we write and produce such wonderful books we must celebrate them with our children. We do not need people to come from overseas to tell us our work is acceptable. We should know by now. We do not need years and years to pass before we believe in what we do. Have courage and be brave, my people. Let’s open wide the Windows to Literature and Literacy.