Saturday, January 21, 2012

Do our children's books have relevance for the non-English speaking Caribbean?

My initial response to that question would have been no. However here is what changed my mind. I had corresponded with Carmen M. Torres Rivera in Puerto Rico quite by chance. She had got some of my books as she was doing work in Caribbean children's literature. Therefore when Island Princess in Brooklyn came out I sent her a copy, as I did for other persons whom I thought might find it interesting. I never expected a reply saying any more than that she had enjoyed it. However here is what she said.

From: Carmen M Torres Rivera
To: Diane Browne
Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2012 7:49 PM
Subject: Island Princess in Brooklyn
Dear Diane,
Yesterday I returned home after a three week vacation in my husband's hometown and was received with your novel. I just finished reading it now and must tell you that I loved it! It is a wonderfully written book, a must read for young adults especially those of Caribbean heritage. Princess is a well developed and rounded character. She was realistic and I felt very identified with her issues and confusion of torn loyalty between Jamaica and her new home. The scene when she truly apologizes with her mother made me almost cry, tears were in my eyes ...
I loved Princess' friends especially Jamal. Your novel is simply outstanding, worthy to be produced into a movie that tweeners and YA would love to see.
So thank you again for sharing this beautiful novel. When I teach again Children's Lit ... I will certainly assign this novel to be read by the BA students. Success always,

I was overwhelmed by this letter, as you can imagine. I am happy and grateful that many people here have read Island Princess in Brooklyn and told me how they loved it, how they loved Princess and that they read it in one sitting because they couldn't put it down, but I never imagined that it would appeal to anyone in the non-English speaking Caribbean. So, my friends, while we are wondering if we, who have in common a British colonial experience, will buy books from one another, or why we seldom do, there is another world of islands and territories that also share experiences with us at whom we should perhps be looking. I have given workshops on writing for children in Curacao (presenting in English because they are multilingual) and I found we had much in common, but I never thought about any of the other islands. And why not, when you come to think of it? Carmen goes on to explain that Puerto Ricans have also shared this migration experience; and indeed in Brooklyn where the seeds of this story were sown, I saw many Puerto Ricans, but I just never thought of those here in the Caribbean. So there is much that perhaps we could be sharing with the other islands in the non-English speaking Caribbean; no doubt there is much they could be sharing with us.

Please let me know if you know of, or come across children's books from the rest of the Caribbean, Spanish, French/French Creole, Dutch-speaking, which tell of our common experiences, about our differences, but inevitably as they all must do, celebrate our common humanity.

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