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.


Hazel Campbell said...

Thanks Helen. A little Background. Nattalie was a student in my writing class at the Philip Sherlock Centre at UWI. i recognized her potential and suggested that Carlong could use a story about athletics. Although track is so popular, there aren't many children's stories using this as a setting. I suggested she start with the belief that it is the Trelawny yam which gives Usain his speed.She came up with a credible draft story-wise but techniques were a bit off, this being her first attempt at a novel. One thing led to another and we agreed to share the writing. It was a good exercise as we complemented one another as the process evolved. I have kept all of our correspondence. Perhaps I'll do a piece on the process of collaboration in writing this piece of fiction. I hope Nattalie writes a sequel.I have suggested that she does so on her own.

Helen said...

Thanks for this background information, Hazel.