Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ash the Flash - A Book Review

If you're like me, you sometimes scan the first few lines of an article, planning to return to it later, but then that doesn't happen. So, in my first few lines, I appeal to parents and all those who buy books for 10-12 year-old Jamaican children, ask for "Ash the Flash" at any Sangsters Bookstore. Teachers and librarians, please recommend this book. Although the number of books about Jamaican children by Jamaican authors is growing, they are not always the first choice of those who recommend books for children. Research has demonstrated the importance of children identifying themselves in at least some of the books they read. "Ash the Flash" and other books in the Sand Pebbles Series are a good starting point.
Those who follow Hazel Campbell’s Facebook page will know that she is an ardent supporter of our athletes and she also lightens up our day with jokes. She has combined these two aspects of her personality in the most recent book in Carlong Publishers Pleasure Series, “Ash the Flash”. It is co-authored by Nattalie Gordon. I don’t know how these two ladies wrote this book together*, but the result is a seamless read.
Carlong describes the book as follows:
In this story, every boy's fantasy comes alive for Ashton Longmore when he finds himself able to run at unbelievable speeds. He can run faster than Usain Bolt! He can run so fast he is only a blur on the field. How did this happen? Where will this lead him? Can he control the speed so he is not labelled a freak ... or worse? Can he use this speed to get victory at the athletic meet for his school? His best friend, Kenroi Donaldson, tries to help him manage this gift and they get into several exciting situations along the way. When they realize that the gift is waning, and there is a strong possibility that he might not win against the rival school's superstar at an important meet, Ash has to summon all his natural strength to prove to himself that he can win and make his school and father proud.
The Key features of this book are:
Although seemingly realistic, this story falls under the genre of fantasy as the incident which started the events in the story is unreal. There is a brief note in the introduction to explain this to readers.
  • The language of the story is mostly Standard English often in the more informal style used and easily understood by the age group.
  • The story places emphasis on an individual's growth towards making the right moral decisions.
  • The main characters in the story are boys as it is aimed at encouraging boys to read. This is a boy-to-enjoy book. Girls will enjoy it too.
  • The characters are well drawn, likeable, and representative of experiences in Grade 6.
  • The setting - school and especially athletic meets - is a popular one today.
  • The story shows both the strengths and weaknesses of friendship as Kenroi tries to influence Ashton's choices.
  • The all important message about the danger of taking drugs to enhance performance is not hammered but gradually revealed as the story progresses.
  • This book is an excellent choice for supplementary reading in schools or at home.
All this information about the book make it attractive to teachers, parents and librarians. What it doesn’t say is why it will most likely appeal to children -  the story is amusingly written. Bizarre situations are described in a dead-pan voice; and mundane events have comical twists. Furthermore,the children in the story, although  mischievous, come across as balanced, normal, sensible and devoid of any hang-ups; while the adults’ personalities are flawed. Uncle Norman is a wacky chemistry teacher, who loves to experiment. Ashton’s father is still bitter about the fact that, twenty years before, another boy had been selected instead of him to run for Jamaica. He is disappointed that up to now, Ashton had shown no interest in athletics. The third adult in the story, as a boy, had been Ashton’s father’s nemesis.  He will go to any length to make sure that his own son follows in his footsteps. It is this portrayal of the characters which will make the book captivating to the 10-12 year-olds for whom it is written.

About the authors
 Hazel D. Campbell
has written and edited stories for children and has produced children's programmes for radio and television. She teaches story writing for children at the UWI. She is the recipient of the 1997 Vic Reid Award for Children's Literature. She is also the series editor for Carlong's Sand Pebbles Pleasure Series for children.
Link to Hazel's blog post about her other books.

Nattalie Gordon
is the 2010 winner of the National Reading Competition and a multiple-time entrant and awardee in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC) Creative Writing Competition. In 2013 she won two gold medals in the competition.

*See Hazel's comment about how they worked together.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Most Popular Posts

To have an internet presence, writers are advised to post weekly in a blog, and to be active on Facebook and Twitter. I found it impossible to keep up with weekly blog posts. In fact in 2013, I took a 6-month break from blogging to concentrate on writing “The Last of the Marogs”. I was surprised to find that people continued to visit my blog and that some posts, written as far back as 2012, continue to be popular.
The 6 most popular are:
3.     GSATRanking and School Size (February 2014) 
4.     Books for Children by Jamaican Authors. I updated this post in August 2014. 
5.     Island Princess in Brooklyn (March 2012) This is a review of Diane Browne's book and an account of my reading of it at St. James Parish Library
 6.     Dyslexia  (February 2012)

 I target Jamaican readers in my posts but see that there is an audience for them in the Ukraine and Russia as well as Germany, France, the UK and the USA.
 Among the posts I would particularly like Jamaicans to read are:
  1. Guest Blog with Natalie Bennett  on the Granville Summer Programme. (July 2012)
  2. Dangers of Smoke and Smoking (August 2013)

  3. Thank you to my readers who have commented on my posts, and to those who have expressed appreciation. You encourage me to continue posting to promote the value and joys of literacy.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dr. Pearnel Bell's Books for Children

“There was a little girl named Jay. She wanted to know the answer for everything. Her mother called her Curious Jay. Her parents taught her about feelings and many other everyday issues.” All young children are curious, but very often their questions go unanswered and their curiosity is stifled. Child psychologist, Dr. Pearnel Bell, is well aware of the effect of this on children and the assistance parents need. Thus she has written a set of books about “The Adventures of Dooney the Donkey and Curious Jay”.  They serve as a starting point for discussions with children about feelings, conflict management, understanding loss and grief, and understanding differences. With their delightful illustrations, they also add to the available picture books about Jamaican children. In addition to the Curious Jay books, she has also written "My First Book of Relaxation Techniques for Children". 

Dr. Bell launched her books on June 26, 2015 at Jackie’s Treasure, 55 Union Street, Montego Bay. The program was chaired by Joy Crooks, founder of CUMI. Her theme was ‘smart’ – we have smart phones, smart TV’s, and smart parents who will recognize the importance of Dr. Bell’s books. I brought greetings and congratulated Dr. Bell on having the perseverance  to publish these books, as I know the challenges faced by authors in self-publishing, which can sometimes be a loss-making venture. Marvette Sterling brought greetings from the Child Development Agency.
Joy Crooks, chairperson

A cultural item in the form of a puppet show followed. Teachers, who had taken part in a workshop earlier in the day, used glove puppets to dramatize the story of Dooley the Donkey and Curious Jay – appreciating one’s own abilities and the differences between people.
The Guest Speaker was Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown,  a clinical social worker and child welfare consultant. As an academic for over thirty years, her innovative direct intervention strategies have led to landmark publications on Caribbean children, adolescents and families. She congratulated the teachers on their puppet show which they had put together that very afternoon in her workshop, commenting that in a US University she would have to pay actors for the role play. Dr. Crawford-Brown emphasized the importance of story-telling and the way in which it transmits values in Caribbean societies, which are under assault from ‘smart’ technologies.  She will be doing more workshops in the future using Dr. Bell’s books. She explained that the problems adults have originate in childhood, and that guidance counsellors and therapists can use these books with children to heal and repair. Furthermore, they add to the diversity in the limited range of picture books about Jamaican children.
Dr. Pearnel Bell, author
The keynote address was followed by the author’s response, after she was introduced by Mrs. Shona Heron.  At the end of the program, refreshments were served and Dr. Bell signed copies of her books. Some members of the audience made generous donations of sets of books to schools. Parents, who are already hard-pressed from having to buy so many school books, are unlikely to buy these books because of the high price (US $21.99 on Amazon) necessitated by high cost of self-publishing and distribution. I hope sponsorship will be found to make them available to the guidance counsellors of all primary schools in Jamaica.

I myself purchased The Adventures of Dooney the Donkey with Curious Jay: Understanding Conflict  Management   on Kindle for $5.99. Below is the review I wrote for it:
New approaches to conflict management are desperately needed in Jamaica, where, instead of themselves trying to find the source of a conflict, parents often advise children to hit back. The Adventures of Dooney the Donkey with Curious Jay: Understanding Conflict  Management is a useful starting point for discussion between parents and children about conflict management. The concepts such as ‘conflict’ and ‘identifying problems’ which are hard for children to understand are explained by the example of the conflict between Dooney the Donkey and Ramos the Goat. The advantages of resolving conflicts without resorting to physical means are discussed. This book could be read by a good reader of grades 2 and up on his own, but would be far more worthwhile if discussed with a parent or teacher. Children could be encouraged to identify their own sources of conflict, keep a journal and write their own stories. There is no mention of feelings, which must come into play and should also be discussed. Dr. Bell deals with feelings in The Adventures of Dooney the Donkey with Curious Jay: Understanding Feelings.

Another of Dr. Bell's books which should be available to teachers in all primary schools is

A Teacher's Guide to Understanding the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders : Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder. You can  read my review of this book in my blog of Sep 2, 2013. All Dr. Bell's books can be purchased at Jackie's Treasure, 55 Union Street, Montego Bay, as well as on Amazon.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Yellow Poui

The Yellow Poui is one of Jamaica’s beautiful flowering trees, but its yellow blossom lasts only one or two days. I have long puzzled over how all the Poui trees in Montego Bay synchronize their flowering. They normally flower in March or April, at the end of the usual dry season. There’s a saying that if students haven’t started studying for exams when the Yellow Pouis flower, they are cutting things too close.  This would normally hold true, but this year and last Pouis have flowered again in August and September. In the worst drought in decades, they have been leafless for months. Then after some heavy showers over the weekend, they burst into flower on Thursday, so I presume that was the trigger. The pollinators of the flowers, insects and tiny hummingbirds, feast on nectar. The fruits, long pods, grow quickly, then dry and open releasing wind-dispersed, papery-winged seeds. They spring up all over the place, but their survival rate is low. Most of the Poui trees we see are planted for decorative purposes.      


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bad Girls in School - A Book Review

 "Bad Girls in School" by Gwyneth Harold is a title in Heinemann's Caribbean Writers Series, first published in 2007. It is available on amazon and in local bookshops in Jamaica.
     Badly behaved students are the bane of teachers’ lives. They sap our energy, demand a disproportionate amount of attention, and make life miserable for other students. We try to make our classes interesting and relevant, we stress the importance of grasping content in the reaching the goal of getting good grades, and the importance of good grades to future success. The school builds up a reputation. Most of the students conform to the norms and take pride in doing so. Various techniques and punishments from reprimands to detentions to suspension are employed to bring the wayward into line. In spite of this, there are always some who are influenced by neither the carrot not the stick. The ultimate sanction for them is expulsion.
This appears to be the fate of the “BadGirls in School” by Gwyneth Harold, in the opening chapter of this book. However, they are rescued by the chairman of the school board, Canon Rodney Pryce, and the young librarian, Elaine Mico. The school sets up a special one-year program for the rehabilitation of the girls. This was one aspect of the story which I found to be implausible - no school has the resources for a teacher to be assigned to a group of three students, even if  on a part-time basis and the teacher is the librarian. The story, set in Redeemer College, a fictional girls’ day school in Kingston, Jamaica describes the girls’ progress from the viewpoint of each of the girls, allowing us to hear their thoughts in a blend of English and Jamaican Creole, and learn about their home backgrounds and challenges. Sections are also written in the voice of Elaine, who volunteered to teach them and has her own challenges.
As a retired teacher, I found this approach interesting. The author allows us to hear the girls’ most intimate thoughts – their anger, resentment, frustration, hopes and dreams – some of which they don’t even share with their friends, let alone their teachers. While teachers are under pressure to complete syllabuses, set and grade assignments, keep records and make sure that students pass external examinations with flying colours, they hardly have time to listen to students’ problems. Even if they did, few are qualified as counselors or would be able take the kind of action for which psychologists and social workers are needed. However, a teacher could speculate that the badly behaved student in her class has similar thoughts to those of the girls in this book, and perhaps treat her differently. However, this very readable book is really intended for teenage girls.  Some, who are themselves ‘bad girls’, would hopefully come to the realization that their situations are not unique, and that it is never too late to make amends. Good girls will also be drawn into the story and may identify some the the girls they know in these fictional characters.

One thing I didn’t like about “Bad Girls in School” was the cover illustrating three girls, none of whom is pretty, as one of them is described in the story. It shows nothing of the setting – nothing which made me think I would like to read the book. In fact it had the opposite effect. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Read Across Jamaica

Book display at St. James Parish Library
Read Across Jamaica Day is celebrated in May during Education Week. I thought it was simply a day when schools invited people to come and read to students, to highlight the importance of literacy. Now I know it is much more than that. Read Across Jamaica Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to introduce creative methods of teaching reading to children, and encourage them to enjoy literature as an aid to changing future disparaging lifestyles affected by illiteracy. It places special emphasis on ensuring access to much needed resources in disadvantaged communities and stands firmly behind its motto:
Share a book with a child and you have given illiteracy a dose of cure.
Ms. Ja'nice Wisdom
Ms. Ja’nice Wisdom, its founder, first introduced the literacy initiative concept to the Jamaica Teachers Association in 2003 as a research paper while studying at the University of Maryland University College. Ms. Wisdom, who now lives in California, is a second generation Jamaican with strong ties to family in Siloah, St. Elizabeth. She is passionate on issues related to children and literacy.
Initially, she modelled the Read Across Jamaica concept after the NEA’s Read Across America Day initiative, otherwise known for celebrating the March 2 birthday of children's book author Dr. Seuss (Ted Gieselle) with a strong emphasis on the universal appeal of “Cat in the Hat.” However, this year she focused on Jamaican authors. Working in collaboration with the Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) 10 copies of each of 50 titles of books by Jamaican authors were purchased and distributed to 10 schools and/or libraries. A big 'thank you' to Kellie Magnus for emailing authors, compiling the list, liaising with Ja'nice, and coordinating the collection and handing over of the books. Authors of these books were on hand to read from them at selected locations, during Education Week.
Following a church service in Trelawny on Sunday, May 3, Ms. Wisdom presented the Minister of Education, The Honourable Ronald Thwaites with a copy of  “Oh, The Places You'll Go!” by Dr. Seuss, to kick-off their Island Wide Bus Tour which began on Monday, May 4 and ended on Saturday May 9.
The schools visited were: Portsmouth Primary, St. Catherine; Mustard Seed Community–Little Angel’s Learning Center, Kingston; Hope Valley Experimental, Papine, St. Andrew; St. Benedicts Primary, Kingston; Port Royal Primary, Kingston; Harbour View Primary, Kingston; Sankofa Primary, St. Thomas; McIntosh Memorial Primary in Manchester; Siloah Primary and Appleton Basic Schools in St. Elizabeth; and finally St. James Parish Library, where I was privileged to be invited to take part in the activities. 
Ms. Wisdom, with the help of library staff, had set up display tables with books and activities for children to take part in.
 She started the program by playing the song ‘Education is the Key’ by TashaT. 
“Education is the key to success, Education is the way of survival,
  Without education you will be declined in this modern time.
“Education is the key to success, Education is the way of survival, 
  Education is the means of sharpening the mind, in this modern time.” 
 Children then sang along, moved to the beat, played tambourines and hit an exercise ball with drum sticks. After this ice-breaker, Ms. Wisdom talked about juggling different aspects of your life – self, family and friends. She illustrated this by juggling balls. As in life, if you drop them, someone will help you retrieve them.
She then read from “Oh, The Places You'll Go!” by Dr. Seuss, picking up two main themes. One tied in with juggling aspects of your life with its ups and downs. The other illustrated the way in which books can allow you to travel the world without leaving your home.
In keeping with this year’s decision to highlight Jamaican children’s authors, I was then given the opportunity to read from “Delroy in the Marog Kingdom”.  Starting with two boys acting the parts of Delroy and Mario putting the frog in a pot, and involving all the children in aspects of the story, I hope I have encouraged them to read the book, copies of which are available in the library. 
With Ja'nice and staff from the library
After my reading there were more activities for the children. Ms. Wisdom and the library staff assisted them in making wordless book bracelets. Then Ms. Wisdom displayed her artistic talents in painting the faces of the participants, one child at a time, meanwhile the others were supplied with paper and crayons for their own art work.
I applaud Ms. Wisdom for her vision, her generosity, her leadership skills and her energizing of the week’s activities for over 12 years in Jamaica. Read Across Jamaica Foundation Inc. is certainly an organization well-worth supporting.

Books by Jamaican Authors distributed by Read Across Jamaica Foundation

Little Lion Goes to School by Kellie Magnus

Little Lion at Bat by Kellie Magnus

Little Lion Goes for Gold by Kellie Magnus 

Nancy and Grandy Nanny by Rebecca Tortello

Gammon and the Woman's Tongue Trees by Diane Browne

Every Little Thing Will be All Right by Diane Browne

Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne

Ash the Flash by Hazel Campbell

Miss Bettina's House by Hazel Campbell

Bernie and the Captain's Ghost by Hazel Campbell

Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne

Jo-Jo's Treasure Hunt by Cherrell Shelly-Robinson

Jenny and the General by Jean D'Costa

Little Island, Big Adventure by Maria Roberts Squires

Forest Fever by Sharon James

Bolo the Monkey by Jonathan Burke

Irie Morning by Alison Moss-Solomon

All Over Again by A-Dziko Simba Gegele

Ptolemy Turtle by Melisande Potter Hall

Soon Come by Melisande Potter Hall

Lucille Travels at Christmas by Jasmine N'Toume

Kito in the Kitchen by Radha Poorhan

When the Sun and the Moon Ran Away by Maizle Goulbourne

Dale's Mango Tree by Kim Robinson

Beautiful Blue Shirt on Barry Street by Isabel Marvin

Saving Joe Louis by Isabel Marvin

Naughty Eddie Larue by Julia Wohlt

Suck Finger Pickney by Tracey McNair

The Adventures of Lumi & Twizzy by Gina Harvey Lewis

Fly Away Home by Andy Mead

Project Climate Save by Petre Williams-Raynor

Tilly Bummie by Hazel Campbell

Anancy's African Adventures by Beulah Richmond

Anancy & Friends by Beulah Richmond

Children's Basic Sight Words by Donna Reid
Drog: A Dreggen Story by Hazel Campbell

Juicebox & Scandal Bag by Hazel Campbell

Lally Mae's Farm Suss by Melanie Schwapp

A Boy Named Neville by Linda Gambrill

Miss Tiny by Linda Gambrill

Croaking Johnny and Dizzy Lizzy by Linda Gambrill 

Marcus Garvey by Suzanne Francis Brown

Searching for Pirates: A Port Royal Adventure by Suzanne Francis Brown

Young Heroes of the Caribbean by Gwyneth Harold

The Turtle Tale by Latoya Newman

Children of Hopeful Village by Latoya Newman

Aiden and the Apple Tree by Johnathon Kelly

Prayers for School Days by Carolien Aikman

Delroy in the Marog Kingdom by Billy Elm
 Errol’s Taxi by Helen Williams

Little Meeta by Jean Goulbourne

Mystery of the Golden Table by Suzanne Francis Brown

Blue Mountain Trouble by Martin Mordecai

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reading from Delroy in the Marog Kingdom and Beautiful Blackbird

The Montessori School in Montego Bay invited me to do a book reading on April 23, 2015. Since some of the children there are only 3 years old, I decided to read a book more suited to that age group than Delroy in the Marog Kingdom, which I read to the older children.  

I chose Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan which lends itself to actions in which the children can take part.
 I wrote out the story on 5” x 3” cards, so that one of the children could hold up the book for the others to see the delightful pictures. It also enabled me to maintain eye-contact with the children and show them the actions. These included a flap-flap-flapping of their wings, beak to beak – peck, peck, peck and a dance called the show claws slide. I had a feather handy to ‘paint’ the birds with spots, large and small, and stripes close together and far apart.
There are several possible follow-up activities to this reading. Younger children can be given birds  cut out of different coloured cartridge paper to paint with dots and stripes, and paste on to a larger picture. If the larger picture includes a lake, they could match the birds with their mirror images. Older children can draw birds and cut out their shapes. Children can be involved in a discussion about what is on the outside not being an indication of what is on the inside.
Crab Catcher at Treasure Beach
All children can be set a challenge to name and recognize Jamaican birds. They could start this activity before hearing the story. How many of the birds are found only in Jamaica? How many of them and which ones are migratory (here for only part of the year). What does migration mean? Where do the birds go in the summer (or the winter)? What colour are the birds? Are any of them only one colour? How many of them have markings of black on them?  What do birds eat? What connection is there between the shapes of their beaks and the food they eat? Make a humming bird feeder out of a plastic bottle to hang at the location – children can make their own to hang at their homes. 
Hummingbird at a feeder
The topic also lends itself to a discussion on respect for wild life, and whether it is wrong to kill birds with a sling-shot and steal eggs from nests.  

Preparing to put the frog in the pot
Reading from
Delroy in the Marog Kingdom
at the Montessori School