Saluting Caribbean Children’s Authors #ICBD April 2


International Children's Book Day e-postcard jpg
Send this “A Taste Of Caribbean Children’s Literature” for #InternationalChildrensBookDay

By Sandra Sealy

Today April 2nd marks #InternationalChildrensBookDay. According to the International Board on Books For Young People (IBBY):

“Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, 2 April, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.”

This is wonderful – pausing to consider how books influence young minds and the celebration of their creators. I tutor creative writing (some of the young ones have even won national awards – yay) and have written a couple stories and a poem or two for this audience. So, I thought it was gratifying.

But then, it also made me also think about the under-representation of the creative children’s authors, writers, storytellers, poets and illustrators the Caribbean when marking this day. Especially those who don’t make it into stand-alone published work.

Thankfully, Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine, the brainchild of Summer Edward, breaks boundaries. This literary e-zine featuring illustrators and children’s lit writers of the region and diaspora pops up fairly prominently when you do a search. It even offers an opportunity for youth to submit their work.

I’ll name a few more of my favourites (even at the risk of vexing somebody by leaving them out): Deanne Kennedy (Barbados), Gregory Fitt (Barbados), Kellie Magnus (Jamaica), Nailah Imoja (Barbados), June Stoute (Barbados), Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua), Sonia S. Williams (Barbados), Barbara Chase (Barbados), Ramabai Espinet (Trinidad/Canada), Susan Haynes-Elcock (Barbados/UK), Katy Gash (Barbados/US), Carol Mitchell (St. Kitts-Nevis) and Marsha Gomes-McKie (Trinidad).

Then there are the amazing illustrators – some of them in the form of double-threats (who write and draw) like Jason Cole (Barbados).

It’s also gratifying to see top-of-feed in a Google search, the colourful, lively book cover art of Caribbean children’s authors like Diane Browne (Jamaica) and Cedella Marley (Jamaica). But there are so many more not captured and so much more to be done.

Where is evidence of the cultural and literary arts festivals of the region including writers for children and juveniles? How do interested parties find scholarly writings addressing this? How do we support our writers by finding and purchasing such books? What about seeing images of this work when you do a search on Flickr?

It’s frustrating to know so much is happening within and outside of the Caribbean but so little known to the world.

It could be the formidable competition of today’s devices and tech vs paper-based publishing for targeted audiences or maybe it’s because we don’t promote and project ourselves enough. The prohibitive cost of book production and associated taxes and duties for publishers come to mind. Can it be also that our oral griot traditions are part of the challenge/ solution?

Funding is obviously one of the main challenges. While the government can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all, more opportunities to develop and support these creatives through the provision of grants and b) maintaining (rather than cutting) budgets for related projects, are necessary.

Maybe we need to create more international linkages and more importantly, develop alliances (online and real world) while promoting news and links from those groups loudly. There should be more cross-fertilization between writers/poets and visual artists/ photographers etc. We definitely need to work more closely with our national libraries to ensure ALL our works are deposited and around for posterity. We should get more of our books into schools and lobby our education ministers. We should work with our filmmakers to take more advantage of our oral heritage. It also would help if those achieving measurable success, reach back more to promote the emerging. We absolutely have to keep this relevant and inspiring for the next generation.

I do have hope, though, when I think of how my journey started with my community – at the grassroots level with VOICES: Barbados Writers’ Collective and nationally with the Literary Arts Desk of the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados.

Clearly, I don’t have all the answers. But, I decided to do my part by at least having a conversation in this space about it.

Share your thoughts with me about this post and please add to my list of must-reads or Caribbean children’s authors.

© 2018 Sandra Sealy

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4 thoughts on “Saluting Caribbean Children’s Authors #ICBD April 2

  1. Thank you for this salute! I agree with your thoughts about developing international linkages and alliances. I’ve become more aware of writers and illustrators from the Caribbean and African countries through social media and blogs that focus on books and the literary arts, so I know there is energy and potential, there. Children’s literature is one of those areas that REALLY needs concerted effort.

  2. I want to say that I think Barbados is a great model and you’ve mentioned some of the reasons here – that you have an active literary arts desk at the National Cultural Foundation, that you have funded creative arts programmes in the schools that utilize local literary talent, that you promote literary arts programmes (I get eblasts re workshops etc from Barbados all the time), that you have activities and endowments and awards to encourage and support the arts – these are gifts and speak to a vision that you and a handful of others have that I wish would be emulated across the Caribbean. I say that to say, our governments could definitely be doing more. So much is on the writers in our islands to be not just writers but the people who make writing happen (both advocate and do the heavy lifting…without compensation). It’s a little bit odd seeing my name on the list (though I appreciate the shout out) given that I think of myself less as a children’s book author and more as an author who has written some children’s books (a couple of illustrated books, and a couple for teens) but really who writes across the genres. That said, I take this opportunity to write for our youngest readers so seriously – I don’t think I truly appreciated how challenging and necessary it is until I did it (necessary because we need to see ourselves at a stage when our identity is still being formed). I’ve written some speaking to that, e.g. And I just think every opportunity to get these books in to the hands of our children (in addition to children beyond the region) should be embraced. One programme I’ve had the opportunity with my book With Grace to be a part of that I think is very good is the Governor’s Summer Read Challenge in the US Virgin Islands wherein selected books are distributed to children across the Virgin Islands. Projects like these need funding – and that’s a challenge, of course, but not insurmountable with vision and energy (i.e. leadership). In Antigua, I volunteer with two programmes – a children’s reading club and a programme that encourages young people to write (and we even attempted our own version of the summer challenge a while back and this year tried a readers’ choice book of the year award that never really got off the ground…it’s obviously sometimes disheartening) – these programmes don’t have the resources to do as much as we would like to do (again it comes back to support) but we do what we can (notably Wadadli Pen has been holding a writing challenge since 2004). Two ideas I’d like to manifest some day is an anthology of writing from the Wadadli Pen Challenge and production of a short film or series of streamable short films featuring some of the stories (especially the ones targeted at children). I do think our stories need to be available across multiple platforms (credit to Caribbean Reads – a small independent press – which publishes its books including my own Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure in print, ebook, and audio format. I agree with you about alliances and amplification of opportunities but also of each others’ works. Credit as you said to platforms like Anansesem – you have for instance Antigua and Barbuda’s Floree Whyte who first published her short story Yohan with the site and has now published a book featuring that Yohan character under her own Moondancer press. That’s opportunity leading to initiative leading to, well, a product. I’ve seen a similar effect with Wadadli Pen in the one or more people who’ve published first with us and gone on to write more and more to now even producing books or working in publishing – the developmental role is important, opportunity, funding, networking and linkages, amplification of opportunities and each others’ successes, and leadership (the powers that be valuing our writers and what they produce in tangible ways). Okay, I’ll shut up now lol

  3. Hi Sandra, Thanks for starting the conversation. For CaribbeanReads one of our biggest issues is keeping costs down. We see people talk their children out of buying a book because the price of the book rivals the price of a meal. Our books tend to be priced lower than other Caribbean books, but the prices are still high and we are constantly looking for strategies and funding to help defray the printing costs so that we can sell our books at a price that parents and schools can easily afford.

Thanks for responding. You made my day!

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