Sunday, February 1, 2015

Promotion of Caribbean Children's Literature

On January 31, 2015, Summer Edward tweeted, “We want to bring together a community around Caribbean children’s lit. Any ideas?” I’m not sure what  she has in mind, but to me the intention of it would be to promote Caribbean children’s lit, by persuading people to sell, buy, borrow, donate, write, publish and READ books set in the Caribbean about Caribbean children.
The community includes children, parents, teachers, librarians, education officers, Ministries of Education, CXC, authors, publishers, book distributers, booksellers, corporate donors, members of the diaspora and well-wishers – in a word – everybody!
The messages I would like to get across are:
  1. Children need to see themselves in books. (See comments by Summer Edwards, Diane Browne and Curdella Forbes in my blog on August 6, 2014)
  2. Children who read for pleasure perform better in all subject areas (including math). See my blog of September 23, 2014)
  3. Children are more likely to read a book of their own choosing than a book chosen for them by someone else.
  4. There are many Caribbean titles available, but people don’t know about them, plus we need many more.

I refer now specifically to the challenge to get this message across in Jamaica, as this is where I live.
Many children don’t know that Jamaicans write books or that there are any books about children like themselves.
Parents, even if they are aware of Caribbean books, are reluctant to buy them, because they can't afford them, or know more about foreign books and think they are better, or will buy books by authors they read as a child.
Teachers are too busy trying to get through the curriculum to devote time to reading. They also prescribe a myriad of workbooks, although written by Jamaicans, are of dubious educational value, are poorly written and contain inaccurate and misleading information. They are also expensive, so parents being required to buy these have no money for books for children to read for pleasure.
Librarians are doing their best with resource restraints. The Jamaica Library Service always includes Caribbean lit in their annual Reading Competition.
The Ministry of Education has produced some very good books, such as the Doctor Bird Series, and Literacy 1-2-3, but what happens to them when they get into the schools? Do education officers follow up? When I was doing some volunteer teaching at a primary school, I was able to look at only a few of these. I understand that workshops were held to instruct teachers in how to use them. Why not video-tape these workshops and have them available on Youtube? Why not have these books for sale?

Authors want to promote their books, but cannot afford to. Publishers in Jamaica, such as LMH, Carlong, Bluemoon, and Arawak are doing what they can with limited resources. Distributers such as Novelty Trading, do promote Caribbean authors to a limited extent, especially at the Calabash Literary Festival, but they too have to focus on the bottom line. Booksellers are reluctant to carry Caribbean children’s lit because “it doesn’t sell” or “it won’t sell”. This is a Catch 22 situation as the books won’t sell if they’re not prominently displayed in the bookshops. Even when they are displayed, they are sometimes withdrawn because “they are not selling”. This was the case with the Island Fiction Series in Fontana in Montego Bay (the display is set up by Novelty Trading). In their place was a whole shelf filled with the Wimpy Kid. Couldn’t a little space have been devoted to the Island Fiction Series? Obviously they’re not going to sell if they’re not there!
Island Fiction Series was later replaced by Wimpy Kid
Corporate donors are very generous when donating books for children. Unfortunately, whoever is advising them does not recommend any Caribbean books. For example, Western Union in its  I-PLEDGE  (‘I Promise to Lend Encouragement to Develop Growth in Education) has a Reading Week when senior executives and staff from GraceKennedy, GraceKennedy agents, private individuals, celebrities and media personalities visit select schools in April each year to read to students and donate books to their school libraries. I have taken part in this initiative since 2010, and suggested that they include Caribbean books, but I have never been able to speak directly to the person who chooses the (foreign) books to send to the schools.  
Every year, Great ShapeInc visits Jamaica and brings in hundreds of boxes of books, with the help and support of Sandals Foundation. A team of volunteers spends two weeks in Jamaica distributing these books and teaching in selected schools. Many of these books are series which a publisher is no longer producing, so they are given away. Georgene Crowe and Gretchen Lee, the innovators and implementers of this programme, make sure that the books are suitable but they have no other control over what books are donated. Georgene kindly purchased a copy of Delroy in the Marog Kingdom for Kendal Primary School, where they were running part of their programme, when I went to do a book reading there. Sandals Foundation has other literacy projects in different parts of Jamaica, There is also NEET  Negril Education Environment Trust which builds libraries and donates books. I failed in my efforts to get in touch with them.
From the diaspora, Natalie Bennett runs the Granville Reading and Art Programme, which includes a Summer School for which she brings in books which have been donated. Most of these books originate out of the USA.   When I listen to Dervan Malcolm’s  programme on Power 106 on Saturday mornings, I hear of other people, such as Leo Gilling and Karlene Largie (President of  Union of  Jamaican Alumni Associations) in the diaspora who are interested in education.
One of the problems with this information age is that there is so much information that one gets deafened by it. Everybody is trying to get his voice heard. Success comes to those who have the opportunity and speak the loudest and the most frequently. Perhaps if authors can get together and speak as one voice (we did that quite well on Multicultural Children’s Book Day) and we can target key persons such as Ministers of Education, CXC, Presidents of Teachers/ Principals Associations, Presidents of National PTA’s, Board Members of Bookshops/ Book Distributers/ Publishers,  CEO’s of Corporate Foundations, Presidents of Students Unions, and Media Houses with simple, eye-catching, memorable, promotional material, (no meetings, please!) we could begin to form a community supporting Caribbean children’s lit.


1 comment:

Diane Browne said...

Excellent blog, Helen! I hope that it generates a lot of interest and action. Diane