Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ananse Sound Splash 2014

Amina Blackwood-Meeks
Ananse worked hard to disrupt the 6th leg of his Sound Splash at Montego Bay Community College on Saturday, November 22, 2014. Amina Blackwood-Meeks was delayed on the road, and some of the presenters had been informed that the conference was to begin at 1:00 p.m., so the conference itself didn’t start until 12:30 p.m. Perhaps Ananse was not pleased that 3 of the presenters were white women, with other than Jamaican accents and that the other 3 were brown women. Where were the Jamaican men? Professor Fred Hickling, who was to have chaired the conference was struck down with chikungunya, and Philip Clarke, the Montego Bay organizer, had to attend a funeral. However, I hope Ananse has forgiven us now, having heard that our presentations were in his favour, and that his story-telling conference is taking on an international flavor. 

Young storyteller
The late start also gave a chance for people whose names were not on the programme to make a contribution. School children told their stories.
One boy (whose name I will add asap) told the well-known “Cinderella” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. He remembered, retold and certainly renewed these stories with such confidence in a language all of us could understand, a blend of creole and standard English, with an appealing rhythm. 
Dr. Angella Samuels-Harris
Principal, MBCC
Then Dr. Samuels-Harris, Principal of Montego Bay Community College, surprised us by telling “Big Boy” and Ananse stories. 
The charming Ms. Sophia McIntosh, Human Resource Lecturer/ Toastmaster and chairperson for the conference, prevailed on me to read “Errol’s Taxi”. Ananse at work again. Perhaps I should have declined to read, as this festival about the oral tradition. If I had known I was going to be asked to read, this is not what I would have chosen. It is a reader in Pearson’s Stepping Stone series, which has 6 levels, with 10 books in each level, for emergent readers to read. I wrote Errol’s Taxi at least 8 years ago, and since several publishers rejected it, I was happy that Pearson accepted it. However, the story which ended up in print is not the same story I wrote. As Mary Nelson said in her presentation “sly messages slip in”. Although I can’t write creole, I usually write dialogue in non-standard English. That was edited out. As Diane Browne said “They want standard English”. Only the setting and the characters remained Jamaican. I would love to hear the boy who told the Cinderella story retell and renew “Errol’s Taxi” in his lyrical voice.
The conference finally began and we were not disappointed. Amina Blackwood Meeks welcomed us all her usual energetic manner.
Presenters l-r: Barry Marshall, Jeri Barnes, Denise Valentine and Mary Nelson

Jeri Barnes, with Barry Marshall helping with the power-point presentation, spoke on “Revitalizing Traditional Stories – A Cultural Imperative”. She discussed what it is about a story that endures – we are part of a story, we keep expecting stories, we expect conflict and resolution. When we tell a story our brains light up and the listener’s brains light up also. We share stories to communicate and share our culture.
Barre Toelken’s twin laws of folklore – conservatism and dynamism. Stories evolve – the extent to which they remain the same or change depends on what the tellers of these stories choose to keep or to add. Stories change because they are open to multiple interpretations, the socio-cultural context changes and because we tend to distort stories.
Old stories have advice. Some stories are as relevant now as they were when they were written but can be told in new ways. Jeri encouraged us to share the old stories, by telling them in our way, in our voice and with spice.
Denise Valentine, Professional Storyteller, Historical Performer, Archivist, from Philadelphia,  USA, whose maternal great-grandparents are from Portland, Jamaica, spoke on “Storytelling, History and Reconstruction”. She highlighted the damaging effects of suppressing the truth when historical information is passed from one generation to the next.
“…unspoken from our past are making the soil toxic, this sickness prevents generative energy and collective innovation from being able to help shift the community forward.” (Katie Boone – Storytelling & Healing | The Art of Hosting).
This has relevance for the descendants of enslaved people in the U.S.A. Ms. Valentine gave examples such as George Washington having slaves and taking them to Philadelphia, where the remains of slave quarters were found within feet of Liberty Bell, but they didn’t want people to know.
We can reveal the truth in stories by reclaiming names and honoring ancestors. Content for stories gleaned from research into historical documents can be woven into traditional story structure. Ms. Valentine showed how this can be done by telling a story herself, in which a girl who had been born into slavery was told her history by an elderly enslaved woman.
Mary Nelson chose to speak on “Ananse and Cultural Decolonization”. She is from Wales, where, when she was a child, the Welsh language was not used in schools, and example of colonizers, (the English) attempting to cut off the Welsh from their culture. Similar attempts were made to cut off enslaved people from their culture without them being aware of what was happening. Ananse stories have been used to portray Jamaicans as tricksters, but these same Ananse Stories can be redesigned to show Ananse as hero or mentor, and the colonizers as shape-shifters and villains. Among the Asante people of Ghana, Ananse was synonymous with skill and wisdom of speech. Surely these abilities should be respected and sought after? Hence the purpose of this storytelling festival – to focus attention on the unique value of Jamaica’s rich oral tradition and its potential for enhancing national development.
My presentation was entitled “If we don’t tell our story, who will?” You can read the full text on my blog post of November 23, 2014.
The final speaker was Gloria Malcolm Foster, story teller, teacher, entertainer, and healer. Her presentation was entitled “Saluting my Grandmother”.
I regret that we didn't have more time to spend with the presenters, and that there were no break-out groups in which the members of the audience could have had a more interactive experience. I nonetheless hope that those in attendance were inspired by what they heard to themselves become storytellers or story-writers. 


Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Paper Presented at Jamaican Storytelling Conference 2014

 If we don’t tell our stories, who will?
 Paper presented at Ananse Sound Splash: Storytelling Conference and Festival  
November 2014

This written version is more or less what I presented, and I have included links.
Helen Williams at mic
Introduction
After graduating from Oxford University in the UK, Helen Williams embarked on a 38-year teaching career, 34 years of which were in Jamaica, at Rusea’s and Green Island High Schools, Lucea Prep School (as founding principal) and Montego Bay Community College. Since retiring, she has taken up writing for children.
Her short story “Finding My Roots” was published in Tony Bradman’s Anthology, ALL IN THE FAMILY in 2008.
DELROY IN THE MAROG KINGDOM, a chapter book in the Island Fiction Series, published by Macmillan Caribbean in 2009, under the penname Billy Elm, won the people’s choice award for Best Children’s Chapter Book in the BIAJ’s biennial awards 2011. It was chosen by the Jamaica Library Service to be read by children aged 9-12 in the Annual Reading Competition 2011.  
ERROL’S TAXI, a reader in Pearson’s Stepping Stones Series, was published in 2013.
A short story, FLASH, won a silver medal, and an award for Best Junior Short Story in JCDC’s Creative Writing Contest in 2010. It is self-published as an e-book. 

Presentation
Robert McKee, a well-known creative writing instructor, said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”
Who is telling our stories, my story, your story? If we don’t tell our stories, who will?
I know this festival is about the oral tradition, but I beg the forgiveness of the organizers in including mention of written stories, because I write. But I also affirm that the telling of stories gave birth to their writing.   
I now make 2 assertions, which I’d like you to remember if you don’t remember anything else.
1.     Jamaican children need to hear about themselves in stories, see themselves in picture books, and read about themselves in books, not as tricksters, shape shifters and villains, but as heroes and heroines, mentors, heralds and gatekeepers.
2.     Reading for pleasure is the single most important educational activity for a child. It improves comprehension, it increases vocabulary and improves grammar. It even improves math scores.
I would like now to discuss the importance of telling of stories to children. Repeating point #1, Jamaican children need to hear themselves and about themselves in stories.
Before children learn to read, they need to hear stories. Thus they learn to listen, hold ideas in their heads and follow stories. They need to remember and retell. They learn to experience emotions and situations vicariously. Whether they recognize themselves or others in a story, they feel empathy for characters in stories.  They will transfer these skills when they learn to read. How often do our Basic School and Grade 1 teachers tell children stories? What stories? How many different stories? There should be a story time every day, with a variety of stories repeated often. Are teachers taught to be storytellers?
Now here’s a dilemma. Stories can be told in creole, but children are not taught to read creole. Although creole is written, and is easy to read, they are taught to read English. Countless studies have shown that children, who learn to read in their mother tongue, transfer that skill to the reading of a second language better than if they were taught to read in that second language, but suggest that common-sense approach in Jamaica, and there is an uproar. Ask a creole speaking 5-year-old to remember and retell a story told to him in standard English. He will retell it in creole. Look at the comments on Facebook by Jamaicans, who learnt to read and write in English, and transferred that skill to the writing of creole. But if you present a child in the first few grades of primary school with text in creole, they will have difficulty reading it. So we are stuck with teaching the reading of standard English, with its countless idiosyncrasies in spelling, grammar and syntax, for the time being.
Expanding on point #2: Reading for pleasure is the single most important educational activity for a child, but most Jamaican children are short-changed by not having enough books available for them to look at in Basic School, or for them to read in every grade of primary school, and certainly not enough about people like themselves. Even in the USA, where in 2010, 14% of the population was African American or African, only 4.5 % of the books were about them; while 63% of the population was Caucasian (and not Hispanic), and 91% of the books were about them. (See my blog Racial and cultural bias in books for children.)

When I went to teach at Green Island Secondary School (as it was then) in 1974, I was in the library when the librarian opened boxes of new books. Many of them were Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. The children pounced on them, wanting to borrow them immediately.  I wondered, “Where were the books by Jamaican authors?” I didn’t see them in the bookshops either. The only Jamaican author that came to my notice was Orlando Patterson. His “Children of Sisyphus” had been prescribed for the older students. There was a big argument in the staff room about whether the students should be allowed to read this book. I didn’t read it myself until recently and now wonder what those students made of it.
Years later, I was to discover that there were at that time many wonderful stories set in Jamaica written by Jamaicans – Jean D’Costa, Vic Reid, Andrew Salkey, Everard Palmer, James Berry and since then many more by Diane Browne, Hazel Campbell, Cherrell Shelley-Robinson, Jean Gouldbourne and others, published by LMH and Carlong in their Sand Pebbles Series. (See a list of books for 8-12 year-olds on my blog.) Why were/ are these books not prominently displayed in the bookshops? Because, according to the boards of these bookshops, they won’t sell. Obviously they won’t sell if you don’t stock them or display them. Parents read Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and books by Enid Blyton, which are prominently displayed in the bookshops so that’s what they buy for their children. 
Island Fiction on the shelves in Fontana, MoBay
Novelty Trading distributes books, including my book “Delroy in the Marog Kingdom”. It was on the shelf in Fontana Pharmacy, Montego Bay, along with other Island Fiction Books, then I didn’t see it again. On enquiring, I was told it wasn’t selling, so was removed to make space for other books. What other books? Do they really need the space to display 50 copies of the Diary of the Wimpy Kid?
So, that’s part of my story. If I don’t tell my story, who will? Going back to 1974: assuming that there was a dearth of children’s books by Jamaican authors, I was presumptuous enough to think that I could contribute in that area. I started a story in 1981, and worked on it sporadically over the next 2 decades, starting by writing long-hand, then using a manual typewriter, then an electric typewriter and finally a word processor. When I retired in 2003, not knowing how to get a book published, I started to read “How to” books on writing fiction, and I took a UCLA online course on children’s writing. The book I’d been working on went into a box under the bed, and my energies went into writing adventure stories for boys. I wrote four of these, none yet published but I’m always optimistic.
My break came in 2007, with 2 stories at once. My short story Finding My Roots was published in an anthology “All in the Family” edited by Tony Bradman. This story included a great house, a moonshine baby, a rolling calf and Grandma Aggie’s Tamarind Switch (my original title!).
My chapter book “Delroy in the Marog Kingdom” was accepted by editor Joanne Gail Johnson’s for inclusion in Macmillan Caribbean’s ‘Island Fiction Series.’ The requirement was for Fantasty, Sci Fi and Folklore set in the Caribbean. The fantasy – Delroy turns into a marog – a type of frog. The folklore – River Mumma. (No Sci-Fi – I’m not a fan of that genre.) What turned out to be pivotal was that in my research on frogs, I found a Taino legend that if mothers went away leaving their children hungry, the children would turn into frogs. Normally, no Taino mother would have done this, but when the Spaniards enslaved them, it happened. It happened also to a Taino princess, who tried to drown herself, but, as Jamaican legend tells, she was turned into River Mumma. I have written 2 sequels to the published book – “Delroy and theMarog Princess” in which she returns to Delroy’s village in human form, available on Amazon as an ebook.  In “The Last of the Marogs”, Delroy time-travels to the time of the Tainos.This story won a silver medal in the JCDC Creative Writing Contest 2013, but is not yet published.
The treasury of Jamaican culture and history, and the infinite variety of settings and characters is my inspiration and can be yours too. Our children need many, many more Jamaican  stories - there aren't nearly enough. Don't forget they need illustrations as well. With the advent of the tablets in schools project, and the ease of e-publishing, the doors of opportunity for you to write for them are thrown wide open. But don’t expect to make money immediately – do it for love.
If we don’t tell our story, who will?

TO FOLLOW in a future post: An account of other most interesting presentations at the conference.
I welcome comments and questions on this post.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chikungunya and Dengue Fever - A Public Health Responsibility

Zapped Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
The small divisions on the scale are millimeters.
Nobody can tell me that I didn't have chikungunya, (chickV), although I'm not prepared to pay Ja$14,000.00 to confirm that diagnosis. Tests done on the a few hundred cases when the virus first appeared in Eastern Jamaica confirmed that is was indeed chikungunya. It spread quickly. It has got to the point now when we ask who hasn't had it, rather than who has had it. Nearly everybody on our street has had it.
     When it first arrived, it was made light of. "You'll have pains for about three days, maybe a rash, then you'll get better and will be immune to further attacks." Not so for many, including myself. Those of us over 45 may take 1 to 2 or more months to get over the acute phase. After that there is the possibility of the subacute phase with arthritis and the possibility of disorders of the blood vessels. Then there is the chronic phase, occurring beyond 3 months and persisting for 2 -3 years. The symptoms include prolonged and severe arthritis, fatigue, body weakness, and depression (no wonder, with the prospect of these symptoms for 3 years!) The chronic phase occurs in 13% of people who contract the disease. If 2 million people in Jamaica contract it, that means that about 260,000 will be affected for up to 3 years. More tragically, many people have died. Yes, they had other conditions such as sickle cell, hypertension and diabetes, or were undergoing cancer treatment, but without chickV they would still be alive.
     I think it is gross negligence on the part of WHO, PAHO and the Jamaican Ministry of Health, who were aware of this disease 2 years ago, to have done nothing. The least they could have done was to mount a public education campaign in the media, schools, churches and business places. The usual cry is that there is no money, but this outbreak has cost far more than a public education campaign would have. A public education campaign, at minimum could give the following information, which could be presented in simpler or more sophisticated ways depending on the audience.
1. Chikungunya is caused by a virus. What is a virus?
A virus is so small it cannot be seen with a regular (light) microscope, but only with an electron microscope. Viruses range in  size from 2 millionths to 30 millionths of a millimetre. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers. We can have 100 trillion viruses in our bodies at the peak of infection.
2. How do viruses make us ill? 
Viruses consist of a protein coat surrounding a DNA (or RNA) core. The protein coat attaches to the outside of a cell in our bodies and the core is injected. It takes over the machinery of the cell and makes new viruses (about 10,000). Our cells burst open and lets them out to infect other cells. Each cell that is attacked dies. Different viruses attack different parts of the body.
3. What do our bodies do?
Our immune system manufactures antibodies to disable the virus. It takes about 5 days for the immune system to produce enough antibodies to get rid of all the viruses. After the viruses have been killed, some of the protein coats are still sticking to the outside of cells, so our immune system attacks these too, prolonging the symptoms.
4. How is the chikungunya virus spread?
It is spread by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. (Males do not bite.) Aedes is a small mosquito which can be recognized by its stripey legs and body. It is around all day, and lurks under tables, beds and other pieces of furniture. It moves quickly, usually flying off before you can swat it.  There are over 50 species of mosquito in Jamaica, but Aedes is the only one that can transmit the chikungunya, and also dengue fever. When an Aedes bites a person infected with chickV, she sucks up some of the viruses in the person's blood. She will then digest the blood meal and find some water in which to lay her eggs. After about a week, she is ready for another blood meal. By that time, the viruses have moved from her stomach to her salivary glands. When she bites the next person, she injects some saliva to stop the blood from clotting while she sucks it up. The viruses are then let loose in that person's blood. It can take 2 - 7 days of incubation, during which time the viruses are multiplying, before the victim shows any symptoms. The mosquito can live for at least 3 weeks and bite many more persons. It could take only one infected person travelling from the site of the initial outbreak to another part of the country to take it there, without even being aware that they have the disease. Also, an infected person could be bitten by many mosquitoes. Alarmingly, an infected Aedes passes on the chikungunya virus to her eggs, which will give rise to mosquitoes already infected with the virus, without catching it from a person. Presumably, all subsequent generations will also carry the virus. Thus, the virus could remain dormant through the dry season, and re-emerge in the rainy season.
5. How can we stop it?
(i) Get rid of the mosquitoes, or stop them biting us -easier said than done. Adult mosquitoes can be killed by fogging, with malathion mixed with diesel oil,  which also kills other insects, including bees, and gives some people asthma. However, it is of limited usefulness, because the day after fogging, more mosquitoes hatch out. Using mosquito coils and vape - mosquitoes are becoming immune to these and they are not good for our health. Swatting them with a zapper - but you can't catch all of them.
(ii) Spray the skin with insect repellant containing Deet. I know people who have escaped ChickV this way, but surely it can't be good for you to spray yourself every day for months on end. It is good advice for tourists who are here for a few weeks.
(iii) Prevent Aedes from breeding. This should ultimately be the main form of control. In the limited public education we have had, people have been urged to check the following for mosquito larvae: flower vases, plant-pot holders, animal water containers, drums holding water for domestic use, old tyres, plastic bottles, styrofoam boxes and anything else that can catch water.
Careless garbage disposal leads to mosquito breeding.
Even if every householder followed these instructions, there are still too many places left where mosquitoes can lay their eggs - too many empty, overgrown lots in our towns and cities. There is one across the street from our house, and another one two houses away. Into these lots, people throw garbage which collects water in the rainy season. People living in the surrounding community are the target of mosquitoes which breed there, so it is really up to us to put pressure on the owners, or on Parish Council to get them cleaned up. Also, we need to be more responsible about garbage disposal. Business places shouldn't employ coke-heads to take away their garbage, knowing they will dump it on an empty lot or in a gully. We have an anti-litter law in Jamaica. Why is it not being enforced? Potholes in roads also fill with water in the rainy season, providing another suitable place for Aedes to lay their eggs.
"Too late now," we may say, as we've already caught ChickV, but there is the ever present threat of the 4 strains of dengue fever, including the life-threatening hemorrhagic dengue fever.
          A better long-term solution is to reduce the Aedes population significantly by releasing sterile males, which mate with females which then lay eggs which are not viable. Research into this by Oxitec has been going on for 10 years, and had now reached the testing stage. The method was successful in the Cayman Islands, just in time to spare them from chikungunya. They are now going on to test larger urban communities in Brazil. Their video is well worth watching.
     My final word is to those who work for WHO, PAHO, Ministries of Health in Caribbean countries, and governments who make the final decisions. We pay you. Without our taxes, you would not have the jobs you have. Jamaicans, already suffering under the IMF, now have to endure more pain as a result of chickV, when that pain could have been prevented. Is that fair?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Olive Senior: Colon Man and the Panama Experience

Olive Senior
On Wednesday, October 1, 2014, Olive Senior, in association with UWI Western Jamaica Campus and the Institute of Jamaica, gave a Distinguished Lecture on “Colon Man and the Panama Experience”, in commemoration of the centenary of the opening of the Panama canal in 1914.
A prelude to the programme in the form of folk songs about Panama canal workers, including the popular “Colon Man Ah Come”, was given by singers from UWI led by Lilieth Nelson.
The chairman for the programme, who welcomed all present, was none other than Dr. Simon Clarke, a Colon Man himself, having been born in Panama of Jamaican parents. He was not resident in Jamaica until he went to Calabar High School. He gave us snippets of information about his life there: on racial segregation, he told us about the ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ cities, and newly arrived Jamaicans refusing to leave the ‘gold’ line at the post office!
Dr. Luz Longsworth, Director of UWI Western Campus; Mrs. Nicole Patrick Shaw, Deputy Director, Institute of Jamaica; and Mrs. Winsome Hudson, National Librarian/CEO of the National Library of Jamaica all brought greetings from their respective institutions which had organized the programme.
Ms. Kristen Laing, PR and Marketing Officer, NLJ, then read Olive Senior’s poem, ALL CLEAR, which deals with the large scale emigration of West Indian males to work on the Panama Canal and elsewhere in Latin America in the Caribbean.
The young lady who introduced Olive Senior, on behalf of Mr. Steffon Campbell of CARIMAC, confessed that if she were to tell us of all this award-winning writer’s  accomplishments, there would be no time for the lecture. You can read more about Olive on her website.
The highlight of the evening was Olive’s lecture, based on her newly published book, Dying to better Themselves:West Indians and the building of the Panama Canal,   published by University of the West Indies Press (September 30, 2014). Although Olive began her research for this book twenty years ago, revisiting the subject from time to time, meanwhile writing 14 other books, her presentation radiated the excitement of finding the Colon Man to be  "one driven by the need to improve his conditions; dying to better himself." She also mentioned the “neglected post-emancipation generation of the 1850's” when there existed poverty we cannot imagine today. From that time, Jamaicans have been migrating to Panama in search of employment. Because of the relative proximity of Panama, there developed a “pattern of circular migration that would transform our islands economically, socially and politically well into the twentieth century.” She emphasized the significance of the contribution that Jamaicans made to the development of Panama, as well as that made by Jamaicans who returned with their savings to invest at home. For a more detailed account of her lecture, I recommend you to the articles by Tanesha Mundle in The Daily Observer and in TallawahMagazine.
Better still, buy a copy of the book to read for yourself!
The evening closed with a vote of thanks by Mr. Aubrey Stewart, Campus Chairman, UWI WJC Guild of Students, followed by a postlude of Refreshments and Book Signing. Unfortunately, the first printing of this book has sold out, except for the few copies which had been kept back for Montego Bay, which were soon sold. I will edit this post with information about when books from the second printing become available.
With my 'beach-buddy' Olive before her lecture



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Suggestions for books for 3-6 year-olds

Following my post of Sep 23, 2014, on How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, I'm making suggestions about appropriate books for children to choose from. They can learn to love books from as early as Kindergarten/ Basic School. The purpose of this post is to be a guide to parents, teachers and well-wishers of Jamaican children aged 3-6 in Basic Schools and Kindergartens, who would like to buy books for children but don't know where to begin. See also my blog of March 1, 2014 for books by Jamaican authors for young children.  I used the list of books recommended by children, on CTL's website to find many of the others. Because most of the authors listed live in the USA, and have a bias towards that culture, I haven't recommended books about baseball, football, or the seasons, especially winter and snow which Jamaican children are unlikely to have experienced. I've highlighted one book per author, but together they have hundreds of other books in print.
A comment here about reading: reading means gaining meaning from words and from pictures. The illustrations in children's books are equally as important as the words.  Children build some key reading skills when they read wordless books, or books with very few words. These include comprehension, sequencing, inferring, predicting and reading from left to right and top to bottom in English.  Many of the books listed are for fluent readers to read aloud to children. The importance of reading aloud,  and for the children then to have the books in their hands, cannot be overemphasized.
Authors are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Atinuke and Lauren Tobia: Anna Hibiscus Series, set in modern Nigeria. Delightful books for the enlightenment of people not living in Nigeria, and for the entertainment of those living there.

2. Molly Bang:  When Sophie Gets Angry . Sophie gets really angry but has her own way of calming down. Minimal text, but the pictures also tell the story.
There are several other titles by this author.

3. Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In this children's classic, the caterpillar eats his way through the book.  A teacher or parent would need to read this to younger children, but there's plenty of room for discussion along the way. Eric Carle has over forty children's books in print.


4. Donald Crews: Flying Minimal text. Children would need guidance the first time they look at this book, but afterwards would be able to 'read' the story on their own by looking at the pictures. Donald Crew has many books about transport, including Truck which is a wordless book. Useful in Jamaican basic schools, except for the setting which of course is in the USA.

5. Lois Ehlert: Top Cat . Top Cat rules the house until a new kitten arrives. At first he doesn't want to share but then finds that 2 can be more fun than one. The text is in large print but the vocabulary is beyond most basic school children. Suitable for read-aloud and discussion.
Lois Ehlert has written and illustrated more than 25 children's books, many of them about the natural environment in the USA, so the birds and plants she mentions would not be familiar to Jamaican children.

6. Ed Emberley: Go Away, Big Green Monster! Kids can turn the pages and watch the monster grow then disappear. Pictures provide clues for the simple text.
 Ed Emberley is the author and illustrator of over 80 books.

7. Ian Falconer: Olivia Have fun with Olivia, dressing up, singing songs and wearing people out. Pre-readers can 'read' a story from the delightful pictures, and, with some help, the text is manageable for emergent readers.
Ian Falconer has written and illustrated 10 more Olivia books.

8. Denise Fleming: In the Tall, Tall Grass  - what a caterpillar would see. A few words of simple text in large letters on each page. Children would soon learn to recognize these words. I would like to see this book in every basic school in Jamaica.
Denise Fleming is the author and illustrator of 15 picture books.

9. Mem Fox: Koala Lou A delightful book for parents or teachers to read aloud to younger children and for older children to read for themselves.
Mem Fox had written dozens of children's books and promotes literacy. She gives good advice in her 10 commandments for reading aloud.     

10. Kevin Henkes: Chrysanthemum Text good for reading aloud and discussion.
Kevin Henkes is the author and illustrator of close to 50 picture books.

11. Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Peanut Butter and Jellyfish - a story of friendship. This is another read-aloud book, but non-readers, after hearing it, would be able to tell the story from the pictures.

12. Bill Martin, Jr.:  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - the letters of the alphabet race one another to the top of the coconut tree. Another book I would like every basic school to have. The rhythmic text would soon be memorized by children. It is available as a board book which would prolong its life when handled by
children. I also recommend Chicka Chicka 1 2 3, by the same author.

13. Jerry Pinkney: The Lion and the Mouse and The Tortoise and the Hare  Children who are struggling with letter recognition can successfully read well-known fables in these two beautifully illustrated wordless books.

14. David Shannon: No, David  I say 'yes' to this book, which highlights all the things David mustn't do. "No, David" is written on every page. There are other suitable books by this author illustrator.

15. Rosemary Wells: Yoko  Yet another read-aloud book, but I included it because of its cultural diversity. Although Yoko is disguised here as a cat, from her name and the text she is unmistakably Japanese. Rosemarie Wells has written other books
about Yoko which would also be well-worth purchasing.

16. Mo Willems: Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus  Teachers, when you read this book to children, they will answer the questions! As children become more fluent readers they will be able to read the simple text for themselves. There are several more pigeon books.

My final comment is a plea to make more books available to Jamaican children, especially in Basic Schools. If you are Jamaican, living abroad, paying a visit to Jamaica, why not purchase a few of these books to donate to a Basic School near to where you will be staying?







Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Help Kids become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers

You don’t often hear of a non-fiction book being hard to put down, and pulling at your heart strings, but that was my experience with “The Reading Zone – HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS ” by Nancie Atwell, which endorsed for me what I have always taken for granted – the value of reading.
My mother used to read to us from as far back as I can remember – Beatrix Potter stories, Alison Uttley’s ‘Little Grey Rabbit’, The Wind in the Willows, Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. But she had a harder time turning me into a skilled, passionate, habitual, critical reader. Unlike my sister, I wasn’t too keen on the titles my mother picked out for me. I suspect that they were above my reading level at
My mother read this to me!
the time and that I wasn’t interested in the content. I liked to read stories by Enid Blyton, whom my parents regarded as sexist and racist. I was oblivious of this, although I knew they didn’t like her books. They weren’t in favour of comics either, probably sharing the view of The 
Reverend John Marcus Harston Morris who “decried the violence and sensationalism of American crime and horror comics and their effects on British children”,  and who started his own comic, “Eagle”, which they allowed us to read. I don’t remember being captivated by Dan Dare or space travel as a result. I’m still not keen on books about exploring the universe. The books that turned me into a reader were C.S. Forester’s “Hornblower” Series. I also enjoyed historical novels for children by Geoffrey Trease. I have a vague recollection of his making a visit to our school and being disappointed by his appearance and lack-luster presentation.
When it came time for me to read to my own children, many more titles were available than when I was child. Favourites were the “Ant and Bee” books and “What a Mess” by Frank Muir. I started Lucea Prep School in 1982, when there was no internet or Amazon, but that didn’t stop me from getting books. Because of the limited range in the local bookshops, I chose books from the Scholastic catalogue to build up a school library. I encouraged parents to buy books, too, but there was often a distressing delay in getting the books by post. I also borrowed books from Hanover Parish Library to read to the children.

Atwell’s premise, I had seen in other writings before, is that
“frequent voluminous reading is the single activity that consistently correlates with high levels of performance in standardized tests of reading ability.” She follows this up with real life examples of how frequent voluminous reading is achieved in her school, Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Edgecomb, Maine, where “teachers hope that along the way students will become smarter, happier, more just and compassionate people because of the worlds they experience in books.” Doesn’t that describe what we would like our students to become in Jamaica? Atwell says “The only surefire way to induce a love of books is to invite students to select their own.” And “…free choice of books should be a young reader’s right, not a privilege.”  “When kids are reading stories that are interesting to them, when books are written at their independent reading levels, comprehension is direct, they understand.” They don’t have to be taught ‘comprehension’.
Most of Atwell’s compelling argument critiques the system in the US, but the methods and outcomes are equally applicable in Jamaica. Unfortunately, very few children here see any books apart from what is supplied at school. Only a small percentage of eligible children actually use the Parish Libraries. School libraries vary, but few of them have a budget and depend mainly on donated books. Class libraries are few and far between. Most parents cannot afford to buy children’s literature. They are hard-pressed to buy the expensive workbooks required on school book lists. Effectively, by failing to provide a choice of books for our children, we are denying them the opportunity to become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers. Two things must happen for us to turn this situation around:
1.     Convince teachers and parents that children who read for pleasure do in fact perform better at school than those who don’t.
2.     Increase the supply of books in parish, school and class libraries.

My book for 9-13 year-olds 
What I suggest is that, at every opportunity, parents request books for their children from friends and relatives, and that teachers and schools request books from organizations. There is then the question: “what books?” I recommend a selection of books by Jamaican and Caribbean authors, in addition to titles by authors from all over the world, which can be purchased on Amazon, if they are not available in local bookshops.
The problem is to select appropriate titles from the avalanche of available children’s books. Nancie Atwell’s book directed me to lists of books recommended by children who attend her school . As she says, the field of children’s literature changes very quickly, so she herself doesn’t recommend books. The children’s recommendations are updated annually. I have begun to go through this list and in subsequent blogs I will highlight my findings.







Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Books by Jamaican authors for children 8-12 years (Updated)

This is an update of my post of October 2012.
Children who read for pleasure improve their word knowledge, grammar and reading comprehension far beyond what is taught in formal classes. This holds true whether they are reading stories about children like themselves or different from themselves. Why then should we be concerned that books about children like themselves are available for their reading pleasure?
In a blog post in October 2012, Diane Browne wrote 
 “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.”
Summer Edwards said in a 2012 blog “Now that I am older and have had a chance to read children's literature from many cultures, I realize that the children's books that have truly made a difference in my life - both my child life and my adult life- are the ones where the stories were set in West Indian places, with characters that talked and looked like me and knew the same things I did.”
In her Reflection on Jamaican children reading  Curdella Forbes wrote “Access to fiction written specifically for Caribbean children and teens is still extremely limited for most Jamaican children…Jamaican fiction outside of the school curriculum is unknown to many children. Some parents who would love to purchase nonschool books for their children cannot afford the cost. Those who can, have extensive options offered by the distributing giant Scholastic. With multiple outlets in the Caribbean, Scholastic leaves its local competitors far behind.”
To help those who would like to purchase books by Jamaican authors, I have updated  my list  and added some links. 

List of books by Jamaican Authors
1. Flying with Icarus  by Curdella Forbes                  2003 (Walker Books)

Carlong Sand Pebble Series  available in Sangsters Book Stores
2. Jojo’s Treasure Hunt by Cherrell Shelley-Robinson           2003 (10-12)
3. Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne                                  2002 (10 -12)
4. Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne       2011 (10-14)
5. Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost by Hazel Campbell          2010 (10-12)
6. Tek Mi! Noh Tek Mi by C. Shelley-Robinson et al            2008 (10-14)
7. Every Little Thing will be All Right by Diane Browne 2003 (8-10)
8. Little Island - Big Adventures by Maria Roberts-Squires 2007 (12-14)
9. Jenny and the General by Jean D’Costa                 2006 (8-10)
10. Miss Bettina’s House by Hazel Campbell                        2004 (8-10)
11. Ash the Flash by Hazel Campbell and Nattalie Gordon   2014 (10-12)

Published by LMH,  available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading.
12. Juice Box and Scandal by Hazel Campbell
13. Tilly Bummie by Hazel Campbell
14. Ramgoat Dashalong by Hazel Campbell
15. Goat Boy Never Cries by Hazel Campbell
16. Be-All-You-Can-Be: Yalena and the Spelling Bee by Lil’ Island kids
17. Fly Away Home and other Caribbean Stories by Andy Mead
18. Project Climate Change by Petre Williams-Raynor
19. Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis
20. Saving Joe Louis by Isabel Marvin


By Diane Browne
21. A Tumbling World - A Time of Fire
22. Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune. Now available as an ebook
23. The Ring and the Roaring Water

By Linda Gambrill (Beenybud Stories)
24. Miss Tiny (7- 9)
25. A Boy Named Neville (7 - 9)

Island Fiction Series (Macmillan Caribbean 2009) available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading and on Amazon.
27. Delroy in the Marog Kingdom by Billy Elm  2009 (9-14)
28. Night of the Indigo by Michael Holgate  2009 (12-15)

Scholastic
29. Blue Mountain Trouble by Martin Mordecai 2009 (8-12) 

By Cedella Marley
31. One Love (2011)
32. Every Little Thing (2012)

33. A Jamaican Storyteller’s Tale by Lorrimer A. Burford ( 2005)

By Suzanne Francis Brown
34. The Mystery of the Golden Table (Arawak Publishing)
35. Searching for Pirates. A Port Royal Adventure (Arawak)
36. Marcus Garvey. (Suzanne Francis-Brown/Jean-Jacques Vayssieres)(Ian Randle Publ)
37. The Mermaid Escapade (E-Published, Kindle, 2013) 

38. By Helen Williams ‘Delroy and the Marog Princess’ (self-published e-book sequel to Delroy in the Marog Kingdom).

The following stories were written longer ago (‘70’s,’80’s and ‘90’s). They are probably better known than more recent publications, because many of them were on school book lists.
By James Berry
40. Ajeemah and His Son – Harper Collins1993 (8-up)
By Everard Palmer
41.  A Cow Called Boy 1972 (6-10)
42. The Sun Salutes You (Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2007) (8-12)
43. My Father Sun-Sun Johnson 1974 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2012)
44. Cloud with the Silver Lining 1987 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2011)
By Jean D’Costa
46. Escape to Last Man Peak
By Andrew Salkey (all reprinted by Peepal Tree Press 2011 in the Caribbean Modern Classics  Series) (12 - up) 
47. Drought (Oxford 1966; )
49.  Riot
50. Hurricane
By Vic Reid (1913 - 1987)
51. Sixty-Five (1960), London: Longman.
52. The Young Warriors (1967), London: Longman.
53. Peter of Mount Ephraim (1971), Kingston: Jamaica Publishing House.
54. The Jamaicans (revised edition 1978), Kingston: Institute of Jamaica.
55. Nanny Town (1983)
56. The Horses of the Morning (1985)
57. The Leopard

In response to comments, I have added the following:
By Geoffrey Philp
58. Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories   There is also a Kindle edition 
59. Marcus and the Amazons (an e-book)
60. The Christmas Dutch Pot Baby (an e-book)
By Renaee Smith
61. The Great Compost Heap

If anyone reading this post knows of, or has written other stories for 8 -14 year-olds, I would be most grateful if you would let me know.