Monday, June 17, 2013

Making the case for children's literature - the Dr. Bird Series: Part 3

You might recall  that I started this discussion on the Dr. Bird Reading series by suggesting that we might consider these books/stories as children’s literature. Instantly some of us may shake our heads, no. After all, local supplementary readers  like these can hardly be considered children’s literature, can they? I mean, unless it’s Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew, or Anne of Green Gables…. Let’s not get confused, here. There are children’s classics like Little Women, and  there is children’s literature in general; and there is modern children’s literature; some of these books  have won awards in the USA and the UK, but we haven’t yet decided that they are classics, so the discussion goes on…

If children remember that they read  a book that they enjoyed; or if another generation of children keep enjoying the same book; or if  adults remember a book they enjoyed in school; or if a story affects children’s/people’s lives, could it then be considered children’s literature – even if the children and people are us? I mean, isn't the ‘us’,  equally important, and what speaks to us, equally important as what we have been socialised to enjoy?

Anecdotal references may suffice: We know that My Father by Peggy Campbell was a favourite. The Heights by Great Men written by Karl Phillpotts (which was about athletics) was a favourite. I wrote one called A Home With Mama. The report at that time was that the people in an entire tenement yard passed that book around. Adults as well as children read that book. For those who are not Jamaican, a tenement yard contains a number of small houses/rooms occupied by different persons/families. It is often to be found in poor areas in the inner cities. The people are often very much connected because of proximity and can be very caring of one another. The children in A Home With Mama  preferred to be in one room with their mother rather than in a big house with relatives. When you come to think of it, some of the housing complexes uptown are perhaps an upscale version; both groups being deserving of equal respect. 

So have the Dr. Bird Reading Series survived the passage of time? I haven’t done a scientific survey, but from time to time people discover me on the Internet ( I guess) and write  to see if they can get copies of the books for their children. The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel and The Runway Car are the runaway favourites. (I couldn’t resist that). A nurse told me that she so respected me because I had written those stories she read in school. A policeman, when I told him that I had written books for children in our schools, replied, ‘Oh I remember the one with Anancy and the dog and the puss and the hot porridge’ ( I told him that  Why Dog Don’t Like Puss was written by Karl Phillpotts). When I went around to schools this year with the group of authors for Kingston Book Festival, and I mentioned Dr. Bird stories there were shouts of recognition, calling out of names like ‘Cat Woman’ and ‘Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree’. And just now in child month when I went to read at a primary school, the grade 2  children could claim that they had read Sweet, Sweet Mango Tree. I don’t think they cared much that the author was standing there in front of them; they were more thrilled to  report that they had enjoyed the story. Mission accomplished? They know that Jamaicans write stories which they enjoy. The children believe in us. Do the adults? Do we as a people still need foreign books to tell us who we are, foreign people in a foreign land, our own?

These books were published in 1980, so it’s quite possible some are more relevant today than others, some better than others, and so on. Nonetheless, I laud the team which included then Education Officers, our own Marguerite Curtin, OD and Jeff Schatzman, who brought this vision into being.  

Ah. I had promised to tell you what my favourites  are, what I would put into an anthology of my work.

They are:

The Strange Fishermen

Marble Lady

Much More Than Shells

The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel

The Runaway Car

An Angel of Mercy

The Yellow Gas Balloon

These are not all at the same reading level. I would rework them to the appropriate reading level, and re-edit where necessary, with the Ministry’s permission of course … Ah, I can dream, can’t I?

All images are from the full colour revised editions produced by the Ministry of Education.


  1. these bks are relevant to our world. the ones the children and I read are enjoyable. the stories are children friendly. the biggest problem is we are not getting the books. we need the books.

  2. can these stories be video taped so children can visualise what the they read, since the books are so scarce. the books are mentioned in the curriculum for children and we cant access them. why?

  3. i am a English major trying to enhance my knowledge on Caribbean literature in all aspects and was research on the some authors and i`m having difficulty finding a good biography on Diane Browne and her books your publishing dates, inspiration not on you or your books are that in depted to understanding you as an author or the meaning behind your first books

  4. These books are major Artifacts to my childhood 😊😍

  5. I remember reading these books in primary school. ..they were the best ..right now am trying to get them in Canada for my kids to read them because. .the schools here teach them ..jack..s.h.I. t...

  6. This has given me life. Inam one of those persons who contacted you on Facebook some time ago. I long for these books
    Cant we get some commemorative copies to buy etc Caribbean Classics! Caribbean literature at its finest.