Just by chance someone in Barbados saw my Caribbean children’s literature blog and said ‘The next time you are in Barbados can you read at my school?’ Her name is Sarah Venable. I replied, ‘I’m going to be in Barbados soon’, and as they say, the rest ... was pure delight for me, and hopefully for my Barbadian hosts. One of the things that Sarah also discovered by chance was that I was the author of Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree, which she had been reading with her group. Serendipity!I read at two primary schools, Sharon Primary and Blackman Gollop Primary.
Sarah Venable is at Sharon Primary as a tutor in the National Cultural Foundation’s Writers in Schools and Education Programme. The Principal, Mrs. Pamela Small-Williams, welcomed me warmly and I knew from emails that she was very supportive of my reading for the students. The group of students consisted of 8-11 year-olds. We talked a bit about the similarities and differences between Jamaica and Barbados, and decided that it was mostly a matter of size.
I read a story called Twins in a Twist, (Pearson - Get Caught Reading Series) which I like because it asks the question, ‘my twin or my team?’ These are bright children and they could respond to that challenge. We talked about why I wrote that story. (I have twin brothers; all sorts of things inspire stories). The children had a number of questions to ask me about writing in general, and about Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree in particular. They sang their song from Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree for me, and I loved it. I even had an offer from one young man to publish my books, a thoughtful response to my indicating the difficulties of getting Caribbean children’s books published. And I have every hope that when he grows up he will remember that day and be a champion for children’s stories.
Sarah has written me since then and shared some of their back-stories to Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree. I found this very exciting and will perhaps borrow this technique when reading to children here. Most of all, I enjoyed their enjoyment of meeting a real-life Caribbean children’s author. I would have loved that as a child; and even as an adult, I am thrilled to meet an author of a book I like.
Penny Hynam invited me to the Story Club at Blackman Gollop Primary. Formed under the aegis of the Barbados chapter of “Be the Change”, the Story Club consists of volunteers reading to the children once a week after school and encouraging visual expression with drawing and colouring in response to the stories. Again I was welcomed by the Principal, Mrs. Joselyn Brewster, who recognized me as part Barbadian (grandchildren are Barbadian, so it follows). The Story Club audience consisted of 5-8 year-olds, mostly boys. Aha! I didn’t think any of the books I had brought with me would hold the attention of this younger, mostly male group. Then it struck me! Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree to the rescue. I became the mango tree with whirling arms for branches, and chanted the song. It was a success.
The second half of their club meeting was to draw something from the story. Now I had forgotten how good a story Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree is. (I say this humbly). It is part of the Doctor Bird Reading Series. I had also forgotten, until I started reading it again, some of the details of the ending. In the end, Ben, who is a lazy, greedy man, who had been asking the mango tree for food and other essentials and getting them, oversteps the mark, and asks for money, money, money. The mango tree rains money down on him and covers him totally. He is never seen again. Traditional folktale ending for greedy people, eh! My young listeners asked what happened to him. What should I say? It’s one thing to read it, so you can wonder about it; quite another to have the author give you a definite answer. ‘Why not draw the ending?’ I said. Well there were various endings, but mainly, Ben used all the money to get a big house, a big car, a big plane and even to become a rock star. Modern times!
Stories help our children to utilize their imaginations. They soon find out that they too can write stories set in their own environment. They see that their lives can also be in stories. What a wonder! I enjoyed being in both schools. I was delighted to meet their principals, clearly both outstanding ladies. I enjoyed meeting the ladies who volunteer for these reading programmes in schools. I consider myself very fortunate that Sarah Venable stumbled upon my blog.
What struck me, and what I hope also strikes you is, here is a story written in Jamaica finding a place in Barbadian schools. I’m sure there are many stories from all the various territories that can find a place in other schools in our territories. So let’s do that, eh. I don’t know how, but one never knows.
(Photos are from both schools, courtesy of Penny Hynam - Blackman Gollop Primary, and Cheryl Hutchinson - Sharon Primary. I try not to show the faces of my young listeners so it may seem like the pictures are mainly of me, but I hope that you get the idea of what a great reading time we had. Please note the extended arm in air, no doubt a branch of the mango tree.)