Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing for kids profoundly important?

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.


  1. Diane, you raise so many points. I presume you include school libraries in the 700 libraries. I will comment on a few I’ve seen. The best prep school library was spacious, full of books and had lending facilities, but the only Jamaican novel was ‘White Witch of Rosehall’. Most of the books in the library had been donated so the school didn’t actually choose the books. Another prep school had no library. One primary school has a new purpose built library. They are gradually putting up shelves and unpacking boxes of N. American books which will fill the shelves. The school itself has no budget for library books nor for a full-time librarian. This is an area where volunteers could be useful. In one high school, the library was a graveyard for a lot of old books – a turnoff for any student. I’m planning to visit some more schools in around MoBay, so will report on what I find. I agree we cannot afford for our young people to not find themselves in good books. Perhaps we should focus more on libraries.

  2. I believe having access to books is one of the most important factors affecting a child’s reading ability. Sadly, some children lack access to books and other reading material in their daily lives. Nevertheless, children must be exposed to books in libraries. Libraries must be able to furnish children with access to reading materials, which will allow them to enrich their experiences and allow them the opportunity to succeed in life.