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?