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Making Pastelles

Sayada Ramdial
Trinidad & Tobago

Christmas Eve

Sayada Ramdial
Trinidad & Tobago

Home from the Spring

Laura James

Hurry up Anna!

Laura James

Oh No, Cows!

Laura James

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On April 2, 2015 (International Children's Book Day), Anansesem hosted its first ever Twitter chat with guest authors Lynn Joseph, Ramin Ganeshram, Tracey Baptiste, and moderator Summer Edward (Anansesem's Founder). The chat focused on diversity, diversifying Caribbean children's lit narratives and the (often problematic) relationship between Caribbean children's literature and US publishing.

The first #Caribbeankidlitchat was enthusiastically received. The Tweet Reach analysis of the chat below confirms the impact of using a social media forum like Twitter to reach and engage the kid lit community:

#Caribbeankidlitchat (that's the official hash tag) is a weekly twitter chat for anyone involved in the writing, editing, reading, marketing or publishing of Caribbean children's literature. We welcome readers, librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers, packagers, etc. to engage in discussions concerning the market, craft, the classroom, children, shelving, content, policy, etc.

 #Caribbeankidlitchat takes place at 7PM EST and goes until 8:30PM. The chats are guided discussions (there is a moderator) and participants are asked to stay on topic. The best way to participate is using tweetchat.com if you have a Twitter account and tagboard.com if you don't.

We plan to have this chat once per month. We are currently seeking participants (guest authors and publishing professionals) as well as volunteers to help spread the word and serve as moderators (as long as you are qualified to do so).

Stay tuned to our Twitter page and Facebook page where we will announce future chats:


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From left: Summer Edward, Danielle Delon
and artist Eddie Bowen 
Anansesem is currently on a publication hiatus, but we have not stopped working behind the scenes!

Anansesem Founder and Art Editor, Summer Edward and Colin Bootman respectively, were recently invited to participate in the "Painting the Word" Art Day pilot program at Toco Secondary School in Trinidad.

Art Day, an initiative spearheaded by Trinidadian author/editor/publisher Danielle Delon, seeks to be an island-wide progam that will bring art education and prominent Trinidad and Tobago artists into the islands' schools. Student writing and art produced during Art Day events will be published as anthologies. An official proposal has been put forth to the Ministry of Education and is pending approval.

Children's art produced during the 
Art Day pilot program
Although Bootman could not attend, Edward, along with Delon, helped Trinidadian artist Eddie Bowen facilitate the pilot program with 24 students from the Toco Secondary and Matelot Community RC schools. A group of 5 teachers from both schools were also on hand to assist.

In keeping with the theme of "rivers and bridges", students created artwork to build upon creative writing projects completed ahead of time in preparation for the pilot program. Students were guided in art techniques and had opportunities to read and discuss their writing and art. Delon, who will soon release a photo-reportage book on the bridges of Trinidad and Tobago, shared her specialized knowledge with students and teachers. At the end of the 5-hour interactive session, students and teachers gave overwhelmingly positive feedback.
More student art

Delon, who founded one of Trinidad and Tobago's first publishing houses, Cassique Publications, is renewing her efforts as a publisher and has extended her work to school outreach and youth development. Delon is also the Director of the NGC Bocas Children's Lit Festival, although the Art Day program is an independent project.

Toco Secondary School, the site of the pilot program, is set to be renamed after Trinidad and Tobago's second Olympic gold medalist and former pupil, Keshorn Walcott, however the school is in dire need of repairs. "The students are bright and beautiful and along with the compulsory subjects, the curriculum prepares students to excel in fields like textile arts and the industrial arts," Edward noted, "But the classroom
walls are bare, the air-condition units are leaking badly, and they are in dire need of more materials and supplies. There is only one English teacher at the school who has to juggle all the classes."

Individuals or organizations wishing to assist or donate supplies to Toco Secondary School can contact the school directly at (868) 670-8261.

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Five self-published children's authors share their personal reflections and sound off on the self-publishing debate.

May 26, 2014
by Summer Edward

Summer Edward is the Managing Editor here at Anansesem.

Early on in my practice as a children's literature blogger, I received an email from Trinbagonian children's author Joanne Gail Johnson that still remains salient in my mind. Johnson, someone who has successfully navigated the traditional publishing path and published several well-received children's books with a major Caribbean publisher, wrote to offer me her opinion on self-publishing.

I had been blogging about Caribbean children's books for a while and would occasionally highlight a self-published book that I thought was valuable for whatever reason. Johnson was not flat-out against self-publishing, but shared her reservations that self-publishing could undermine the development of a serious children's publishing institution. She wrote:

"I resist promoting the idea of self publishing... for now I see that we are circumventing the development of our talent pool by not taking authors to task on the work of professional development the art of query letters, the joy of rejection and perseverance and the victory of making it to the top of the list over hundreds, even thousands of others in an international peer group. This is the vision that will really grow our talent."

Since then, I have been quietly mulling over the self-publishing dilemma. Self-publishing is still a relatively new frontier and many are grappling with the complexities of this paradigm of making books, including the shifting dynamics of authorship and power ushered in by the self-publishing movement. Does self-publishing contribute to a culture of amateur professionalism in Caribbean children's publishing? And given the less than stellar track record of traditional publishing systems, both here in the Caribbean and worldwide, to foster the children's literature of developing countries such as our own, is amateur professionalism necessarily a bad thing at this point?

We really do not have the answers. We can, however, cite one analysis showing that 63% of the English-language Caribbean children's and YA books released in 2013 were self-published books (compared to 56% in 2011 and 58% in 2012). The fact is, self-publishing of Caribbean children's books is steadily on the rise. With that in mind, we are taking the stance that it behooves us to inquire into the self-publishing trend, or movement if you will. This is what our Self-Publishing Journeys feature is all about.

Here at Anansesem, we made it our policy early on to only review traditionally published books. We have sometimes done interviews with self-published authors, and when we have done so we have always been careful to select authors whose works and work ethic demonstrate a certain critical level of engagement with the possibilities and responsibilities of writing for children. Our Self-Publishing Journey's segment is no different. We asked five children's authors who have enjoyed both objective and subjective success, and who have shown commitment to the external path of children's authorship and to the internal path of developing their craft, to write reflections on their experiences with self-publishing. Here's what they had to say.

Stacey Alfonso-Mills 

Books: The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard (2009), The Boys of Sinclair Hill-The PrincessThe Treasure and The Blue Dragon (2011), and Manatee has a Question (2014)
Country: Trinidad and Tobago
>> Click to read

Bish Denham

Books: Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales (2013)
Country: U.S. Virgin Islands/USA
>>Click to read

Kellie Magnus

Books: Little Lion Goes to School (2003), Little Lion at Bat (2007), Little Lion Goes for Gold (2008), Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band (2009, co-author)
Country: Jamaica
>>Click to read

Jo-Anne Mason

Books: Paddy, the Goat That Saved Rainbow Island (2003, republished as Paddy the Goat That Saved Anguilla), Trixy the Monkey That Ate Nevis (2012), The Perfect Shell (2012)
Country: Anguilla
>>Click to read

Geoffrey Philp

Books: Marcus and the Amazons (2011), Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories (2012), The Christmas Dutch Pot Baby (2012)
Country: Jamaica/USA
>>Click to read

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by Patricia Whittle

Den a how dis ya tess so hard?
Teacher never teachi, for mi study a yard.
But how dem gi wi wa dem no teach Miss?
Sey mi fi shut up for a exam dis?

Miss mi nah look pon nobaddy paper!
Gwan mark up mi paper for mi no kya.
Afta dem gi wi tess pon wa dem no teach
Dem come tell lie bout people a cheat.

Teck di paper Miss, an gwan!
A so all a unnu carry awn
Bout Principal wi deal wid mi behaviour!
A pure foolishness a gwan ya!

The Intelligent Iguana by Sayada Ramdial

About the Author

Patricia Whittle is a Jamaican librarian and a teacher of English Literature. She writes stories, plays and poems. She is the author of two books, Johnny, Mass Tom and the Fatal Error: Three Short Plays and Mi Waan Fi Publish A Book: An Anthology Of Jamaican Dialect Poems.

About the Illustrator

Sayada Ramdial is an illustrator and graphic artist from Trinidad and Tobago. She is the artist behind "Designed For A Smile", a line of greeting cards celebrating the spirit of Trinidad and Tobago Christmas. In 2012, she graduated with honours from SCAD, University for Creative Careers, where she earned her B.F.A in Illustration, with a minor in Drawing.

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While children's author Vashanti Rahaman has mostly stayed out of the limelight, her picturebooks shine a light on the human condition. Indeed, they might be best described as illuminating stories that engage and challenge children without speaking down to them. She recently spoke to Summer Edward about the power of literature to help children understand the human condition, bridging cultural gaps, and navigating the world of publishing.

Vashanti Rahaman is the author of the picturebooks O Christmas Tree, Read for Me, Mama, and A Little Salmon for Witness: A Story from Trinidad. Her latest picturebook Divali Rose, was described as "[An] appealing, multilayered story" by School Library Journal. Born in Trinidad, she received her B.S. at Mt. Allison University in Canada. Her articles and short stories for children have been published in Highlights, Pockets, and Cricket magazines. She lives in Missouri, USA.


S.E.: How did you come to write for children? 

V. R.: I was new to America (the USA) and had young children. This exposed me to the richness of children's literature here, of which I had, previously, been only vaguely aware. Like many parents I often thought, as I read to my children: 'I could write something like that'. My first attempts were more in the nature of a mental exercise than anything else.

S.E.: Three of your picture books-- O Christmas Tree, Read for Me, Mama and Divali Rose-- were published by Boyds Mills Press. I did a tour of their offices in Honesdale earlier this year and I find them to be an interesting publisher. What would you say has been the best thing about your working relationship with Boyds Mills? 

V. R.: The very first story I actually sold was to Highlights for Children, and Boyds Mills Press published my first picture book. All along, Kent Brown and his editors worked hard to help me become a better writer, and to keep me writing. I might even venture to say that they saw more potential in my writing than I did.

S.E.: I read Divali Rose earlier this year and was struck by the maturity of the story. A young boy struggles to understand the resentments between different generations of Indo-Trinidadian immigrants. Do you see children's literature as having a role to play in addressing social issues like prejudice? 

V. R.: I teach high school Chemistry and Biology. In the sciences, a model is a partial representation of some aspect of the natural world which is used to study, understand and explain that selected part of the world. Using the word "model" in that same sense, I consider works of literature, including children's literature, to be models of the human condition, and the human condition includes negative responses to the existence of those deemed to be "other".

If, as adults, we honestly look back to the thought processes we had as children we will find that our younger selves were, indeed, quite mature in their attempts to understand the human condition, given the paucity of our experiences at that time. Children's literature adds to, or confirms, or questions, a child's experience of the world.

S.E.: O Christmas Tree is another rather mature picturebook. Anslem, the little boy in the story, comes to understand that Caribbean ways of observing and celebrating Christmas are just as valid and meaningful as imported European and American traditions. O Christmas Tree was first published in 1996; do you think the story is still relevant for young readers today? 

V. R.: The problem of valuing their own cultures in the face of pressure from dominant cultures is an ever present reality for many young readers. It takes many faces but is recognizable, if you are aware of the potential for its existence. I have found that children have a remarkable ability to find parallels to their own lives in what are, to them, alien stories.

S.E.: In your picturebooks, elders are typically figured as cultural stewards who reminisce or impart lessons about the past to a child. For example, the Aaji in A Little Salmon for Witness: A Story from Trinidad remembers a time when everyone in her village ate smoked salmon as a way of observing Good Friday, inspiring her grandson to work hard to buy a piece of salmon for her. Can you speak about the role of remembering and cultural transmission in your stories?

V. R.: Actually, the setting I originally had in mind when I wrote the story was the city of San Fernando in Trinidad. It is interesting that it ended up looking like a village to almost everyone else. But, to address your question," elders are cultural stewards who reminisce or impart lessons about the past to a child". When they are unable to carry out or even abdicate that role, a void is created in a child's experience of the world. I think, in retrospect, that my stories were indeed often an exercise in cultural transmission to my children. My husband and I are  immigrants from what used to be the British Caribbean, and we were bringing up our children in a small American mid-western university town, far away from relatives and from other British Caribbean immigrants.

S.E.: You were born and raised in Trinidad and lived in Dominica for many years before moving to the United States. You now live in Missouri. As an author, do you find it difficult bridging the gaps between your Caribbean background, your semi-rural mid-western American life, and the demands and expectations of metropolitan American publishers/editors? 

V. R.: I was born in Trinidad, moved as a very young child to England and India with my parents, and eventually settled with them in Dominica where we lived all through my elementary and high school years.  We visited our relatives in Trinidad yearly, and my parents and brothers returned to Trinidad while I was in college in Canada. After graduation, I joined them in Trinidad for about 8 years before moving to the USA with my husband and our first son who was still a baby.  I've been bridging cultural gaps all my life. That has made me quite comfortable with having to look at the world through another's eyes and trying to help others see the world through mine.

As for metropolitan American publishers/editors, I have had very good mentoring editors whose high expectations were welcome. Publishers, however, may have wished that I had been more involved in the marketing of my work, but I cannot blame that on either my Caribbean background or my semi-rural mid-western life. I can only blame it on the place I allowed writing to have in my life.

S.E.: I enjoyed your short story "Round and Round Music" in Kahani children's magazine. You've also published short children's stories in Highlights for Children, Pockets, and Cricket. How would you describe your short stories for children? 

V. R.: Most of my writing has been short stories and articles for children. I write for the children I have known, to share with them things I've learned that might interest them, as well as my thoughts and experiences and glimpses of my personal models of the human condition. I have enormous respect for the ability of children to build their own models of the human condition from the experiences to which they have access.

S.E.: Indo-Caribbean children's authors are a minority in the field and Caribbean children's stories disproportionately feature Afro-Caribbean characters over characters of other ethnicities. Do you think of yourself as an anomaly and do bring an awareness of cultural representation to your work? 

Writers write who they are. In that regard, we are all anomalies. Indo-Caribbean people are a minority in the world. Most of the Indian diaspora is outside of the Caribbean. Most of the people of the Caribbean are of African descent. By some estimates there are more than ten times more people of African descent than there are people of  Indian descent in the Caribbean. So I am not sure that the presence of Afro-Caribbean characters in Caribbean children' stories is really disproportionate.

My awareness of being from the Caribbean does include my memories of my visits to relatives in Trinidad as a child, but it also includes experiences during my formative years in Dominica where my being of Indian descent had nothing of the socio-political baggage that it had in Trinidad because, in Dominica, people of Indian descent were recent and few. I grew up aware of myself, and being treated by others, more as a unique individual than as a member of a demographically significant ethnic group.

S.E.: You haven't done a lot of interviews in the past, in fact, it seems like you've kept a rather low profile as an author. Have you deliberately avoided the public side of being a children's author? 

V. R.: I simply haven't made room for it in my life. It was a tradeoff. Other things were more important.

S.E.: As a Caribbean children's writer living abroad, what has been the most interesting or challenging thing about navigating the publishing world in the States? 

V. R.: To tell the truth, navigating the publishing world was like backpacking through a foreign country without a map and with only a tenuous grasp of the local language, depending on the kindness of strangers to help me find my way. It was enormous fun. And I was lucky.

I am of a generation that grew up communicating with the outside world through the postal services. To begin with, that is how I communicated with the publishing world. As electronic communication became more common I used that happily. I found that writers and editors do very well writing to each other.

What amused me most was the way my stories looked and sounded to others. I am keenly aware that the story each reader reads is different from the story I wrote, and different from the story that other readers read, and I am content and delighted that it should be so.

S.E.: Your last children's book was published in 2008; a lot has changed in the world of children's publishing since then. Are you still writing and how do you see your future as a children's author in the current landscape? 

V. R.: I had taught high school biological sciences and maths in Trinidad, so after my sons left for College, I decided to go back to teaching full time. That meant first going back to school to get a teaching certificate for my state, and later getting a Masters degree in science education. I teach in a very small rural high school in a town not far from the one where I live, and I enjoy it thoroughly. Now I tell my stories of cultural transmission to my students, but this time the culture I am transmitting to them is the culture of science. The result of all of this is that the empty space in my mind, which I need to be able to write, is filled most of the time now with lesson plans.  I do write for publication occasionally, still. My writing for Kahani for example, was done after I started teaching and the final re-writes of Divali Rose were also done during that time. I have not given up on writing, though. Perhaps after I retire in four or five years, or so, I will re-enter the brave new world of children's writing more fully.

S.E.: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your experience as a children's author?

V. R.: I enjoy the process of writing: the research, the playing with words, and the re-writing. Then, when I offer my writing to publishers and editors and readers, I enjoy watching the transformation that happens as my work takes on a life of its own, independent of me.



About the Interviewer

Summer Edward was born in Trinidad and lives in Philadelphia, USA. She is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. Her poems and art have been published in literary magazines such as Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, tongues of the oceanBIM: Arts for the 21st CenturyPhiladelphia StoriesThe Columbia ReviewThe Caribbean Writersx salon and more. She was shortlisted for the 2012 Small Axe Literary Prize in the fiction category. She blogs at www.summeredward.com.

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Here at Anansesem we have gained the conviction that literary coverage and criticism of Caribbean children's literature can be improved by broader participation and representation in conversations about the literature. Formal, public conversations about our literature for children do not happen nearly enough in informed circles; moreover, a tendency to fixate on deficit views of the literature has narrowed the conversation. We asked industry experts to read this article, Broader, Better Literary Conversations, published in The Nation earlier this year and use it as a point of departure to write a response to the question: How can publishers, editors, scholars and reviewers have broader, better conversations about Caribbean children's literature? Here's what they had to say.

Joanne Gail Johnson, Island Fiction Series (Macmillan) Editor: The greatest “pay days” come when a complete stranger purchases a book with which I am involved, because it is selected from among the available choices, as the one they most want to read; or when my name is recognized, not for the fame, but because it means that they have read and enjoyed a book with which I’m affiliated. These “ Real Reader” moments are the best reviews; my most affluent ‘pay-off’s. Establishing captive audiences through systems: education ministries, libraries, sponsored pre-sales etc. are real, predictable ways to increase sales, but genuine interest from each customer in the free market, paying one-by-one for what we create, is priceless.

With eleven published stories for children and six ‘tween’ novellas as series editor, I have come to understand the authentic power established between books, and paying readers. More than ever, I am interested in conversations that serve this kind of reality-based work for publishers, their writers and editors. Editors today will have broader, better conversations about Caribbean children’s literature when we:

1. Educate ourselves in an ongoing way about: the business of publishing; the relevance of targeting content to specific markets that we know and understand; the importance of the audience in the chain of supply and demand.
2. Develop an interest in the reader as a free-market consumer and not a guaranteed, captive audience i.e. students in a classroom.
3. When we stop trying to motivate publishing and/or sales by lording a sense of moral duty towards readers who share, or don’t share our genre, culture, gender or ethnicity.
4. Relinquish any fetish for folklore and myth as the most identifiable brands of multiculturalism in the international market.
5. Create and/ or support projects that focus on publishing others. Then we really step fully into the objective roles of  ‘editor’ and ‘publisher’.
6. Stay abreast of trends in content, delivery, marketing strategies and relevant technologies.
7. Recognize specific needs in our markets of interest; and we work to serve and fulfill those needs.
8. Identify the role of illustration, visual/cinematic writing, not only in children’s books but as a part of today’s reading/ ie-in media/ publishing evolution.
9. Understand our Caribbean markets are made up of reluctant readers of all ages, and determine to address cultural change in that regard; looking to the value of high concept, low text density and writing that conveys potency with brevity.
10. Aim to make a story or book better. We are not correcting a classroom paper, proof reading for grammar, punctuation etc. we are thinking holistically about the readers’ experiences.
11. Take risks.

Mario Picayo, Publisher, Editorial Campanita/Little Bell Caribbean: My company is in New York, but my main children’s book market is the Caribbean, particularly the Lesser Antilles. I am Cuban, lived in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I visit the region frequently.

As publishers we should discuss many issues, but there are four that are fundamental: broader distribution of Caribbean children’s books between islands, pricing that allows the average citizen to buy the books, more effort in translating books to the languages of the Caribbean (bi or trilingual editions) and the publication of more titles by local authors and illustrators where the books are held to new standards and not defined by U.S. and European classic models of what is “good” literature.

Addressing these issues would help publishers reach a much broader audience within the Caribbean and would help them explore new markets. The Caribbean, including the diasporas and the continental Caribbean of Central and South America, is over 100 million people strong. Improved distribution, better pricing and multilingual books would help the region economically and culturally, and would encourage new generations of authors, illustrators, publishers, and readers. Finally, I would address the issue of what is considered good literature. Books that “speak” to both children and adults through content that reflects their reality, values and culture are often enthusiastically embraced, purchased and turned into best sellers by the communities for which they are written.

So, recapping, my challenge to other publishers of Caribbean children’s titles would be: try and make books available throughout the region and beyond, make them affordable, translate as many titles as possible, and especially help create a literature with the readers in mind, not in a monolithic sense of "Caribbean," but rather giving margin to different forms of expression that might work at regional levels. That means taking chances on local unknown writers and illustrators who may do well connecting with and inspiring their communities, if given a chance to reach them. With the exception of Cuban children’s authors (in Cuba) the doors are almost closed shut to most writers living in the Caribbean. We need to open them wide.

Dr. Sujin B.E. Huggins, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University: When I embarked upon my research into Caribbean children's literature, I was surprised by how little scholarship there was from which I could build, with very few identifiable scholars investigating and delineating its nature, significance, and prevailing characteristics.  In my exploration of the literature, I found that many questions emerged.

One of the most pressing I have identified is the elucidation of the notion of Caribbean as it pertains to juvenile literature. Based on the majority of the works of Caribbean children’s literature that I examined, all that was needed to legitimize the use of the descriptor and its inclusion in the collection was the mere mention of the word “Caribbean” somewhere in the title, with little consideration to the actual content, ideological stance or implicit/explicit agenda. Closer examination of these works by scholars would ultimately expose some of the inconsistencies and help to establish clearer parameters for the literature so that it does a better job of explaining to its reader what their society was, is, will, can, or should be.

Of course, many of the inconsistencies can be attributed to the dominant place of foreign publishing and its complex relationship with the region. Given that most of the picturebooks included in library collections to which Caribbean children have access or sold in regional bookstores are imported from the United Kingdom, what messages are being transmitted to our children with respect to the perception and worth of the societies in which they live?

In the current information age characterized by the inundation, saturation and consumption of foreign media, is it not our responsibility to understand and compare how Caribbean children currently “read” these competing forces and their culture in an attempt to preserve, create, or influence a literary artifact that more effectively tells them about themselves? One effective way to achieve this would be to simply ask the children themselves how they perceive and use the literature and other forms of media and really listen to what they have to say. If we as scholars continue to dig for the answers and advocate for the children and the literature, the impact can be far-reaching and transformative to our Caribbean societies.

Summer Edward, M.S.Ed., Managing Editor of Anansesem and Book Reviewer: Book reviewers have an important role to play in broadening and diversifying the literary conversation. One way we can do this is by committing to writing serious reviews of both traditionally published and self-published books. This is necessary because over the past three years, an average 59% of the children's books published per year in this market have been self-published books. Add this to the fact that more and more online consumers are buying, reading, and buying into these self-published works, and we can see that self-publishing has the potential to define Caribbean children's literature and Caribbean children's reading. Thus the self-published works should be examined seriously. So more serious, critical reviews of self-published works are in order, as opposed to feel-good reviews that merely talk up the books for publicity's sake.  

Reviewers can also broaden the literary conversation by reviewing children's books from former years that have gone unrecognized. There are many children's authors of the last four decades or so whose works have not been examined, or not been examined enough. Many of the landmark and important works of Caribbean children's literature, particularly the seminal works in the genre, have a scant or negligible review history. Now is the time for fresh discussions of these books, and reviewers can and should abet these discussions by bringing rare and out-of-print books to the forefront. Literary coverage tends to favor only the most current releases, but the relative inconspicuousness with which this body of literature has emerged means that coverage now needs to be done retroactively. Reviewers must now act like archivists, gathering, assessing and creating new "readings" of the little known books that are of long-term value.

Of course, we need more fora where serious reviews of Caribbean children's books can be published and circulated, both online and in print. By "serious reviews" I mean reviews that apply professional literary criticism to assessments of children's books, which is to say, reviews that demonstrate an erudite understanding of the history, nature and concerns of this particular genre. A serious review culture means going beyond a reviewing lens which fixates on Caribbean children's books as mere cultural artifacts to be celebrated ipso facto, to reviewing the books with an eye to the more universal priorities of children's literature, namely, the ways in which books address the concerns of childhood, and the propensity of stories to speak to child readers.


As readers of Anansesem and of children's books, YOU are also a part of the literary conversation about Caribbean children's literature. What did you think of the experts' views above? What do you want to see more of when it comes to literary coverage (press, journals, reviews, panel discussions) of children's books? What issues or topics would you like to see publishers and editors spending more time on? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Laura James

Anna Carries Water is Olive Senior's upcoming picturebook (Tradewind Books, 2014), set in Jamaica, about a girl learning to balance water from the spring on her head. Laura James illustrated Anna Carries Water, her debut work as a children's illustrator. James created the illustrations using acrylic on canvas.

Anna, the youngest of six children, cannot carry water on her head like the rest of her siblings. In the illustration titled "Hurry up Anna!", Anna's sisters and brothers wait while she tries her best to get the coffee can on her head. They are ready to go and she is still trying to balance her can. They don’t think she can do it and they are tired of waiting.

In the illustration, "Home From the Spring", the children walk in a straight line; all except Anna are balancing water on their heads. James confesses: "This is one of my favorite pictures because I was able to show a lot of foliage and a bit of the countryside, and the orange leaf trees that I enjoyed painting. I was also happy to be able to get the Jamaican flag in this one." The illustration, "Oh No, Cows!", shows Anna as she comes face to face with one of Mr. Johnson’s cows; she is very afraid of them and thinks they are out to get her! Of course they are not, and this fear actually helps her to finally balance her water can on her head. Because she is afraid she doesn’t think about it, but puts the can on her head and takes off running!

"Hurry up, Anna!"

Oh no, cows!

Laura on what Caribbean children's illustration means to her:

"I was very delighted to make the illustrations for this book, written by celebrated Jamaican-Canadian author Olive Senior, and set in Jamaica. This was my first time illustrating a children’s picture book, and I worked on the paintings for about a year. I like to use vibrant colors and painting foliage and lush scenes, and interesting animals, so making these pictures for a Caribbean story was great. It is also nice to share the story with children in the States who are unfamiliar with Caribbean scenes and language, explaining what ‘dasheen’ is, etc. Also sharing the struggles of having to fetch water for daily use and talking about water conservation with young children has been a plus."

Home from the Spring

Laura James, a self-taught painter of Antiguan heritage, has been working as a professional artist and illustrator for over twenty years. She has organized many exhibitions and special projects, including initiating a successful crowd-funding campaign to bring culturally relevant religious art to a remote area in Haiti. Ms. James is currently at work on an ongoing series of paintings titled Nannies and Other Mothers where she tells the stories of countless women who leave their families to come to America, UK, or Canada in search of a better life, taking jobs as domestic workers. The Nanny Series – A Postcolonial Reading incorporates a paper and slide presentation around this project and was first presented at the 2nd ISA Forum of Sociology in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 2012. James work is widely collected and exhibited and her images have been published in numerous publications and media. She lives and works in the Bronx, New York.

View more of Laura's work here:


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Sayada Ramdial
Trinidad and Tobago

Although Sayada Ramdial has not yet illustrated a children's book, she has worked on several design projects for children and hopes to illustrate a picturebook one day. Her Christmas card line, "Designed For a Smile" celebrates the spirit of Trinidad and Tobago Christmas, often through the eyes of childhood. Her illustrations are done entirely digitally in Photoshop with the aid of a graphics tablet.

The illustration "Making Pastelles" captures one of the traditions of Trinidad Christmas: making pastelles! Pastelles are delicious seasonal pies made of cornmeal and stuffed with meat. Ramdial says: "I wanted to show in this illustration the feeling of family bonding through cooking. That, and the inevitable stealing of some meat from out of the bowl!"

The illustration "Christmas Eve" was inspired by a personal memory: "When I was very young, my sister and I would wake up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and go with flashlights to the Christmas tree to sneak a peak at what Santa had brought us. It was all fun and games until we got caught and were sent straight back to bed!" Sounds familiar?

Making Pastelles

Sayada Ramdial on what Caribbea children's illustration means to her:

"Caribbean children's illustration to me means representing our culture in a way that educates, engages, and delights children, and makes our young people feel included in media meant especially for them." 


Sayada Ramdial is an artist and illustrator from Trinidad and Tobago. Her love of drawing from an early age was nurtured and grew, eventually leading to her pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art & Design. Since graduating in 2012, she has returned to Trinidad to work as a freelance illustrator. Her illustrations appear in the poetry collection Through The Eyes of Innocence by Tessa Pascall and are also forthcoming in books by Andy Campbell and Jan Westmaas.

View more of Sayada's work here:

Christmas Eve

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Margarita Engle talks to Summer Edward about her upcoming middle grade to young adult novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, her love of rain forests, imagining the historical past and more.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters. Engle’s most recent books are The Lightning Dreamer and When You Wander. Her new middle grade chapter book, Mountain Dog, was published in August 2013. Margarita's upcoming book, Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal, will be released in 2014. She lives in central California where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.


S.E.: Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal is your upcoming children’s novel from Harcourt Publishers and University of Queensland Press. The book’s release will coincide with the centenary of the Panama Canal in 2014. What is the story behind this book and what inspired you to tell the story of the “silver people” 100 years later? 

M. E.: Long ago, when I was still working as a botanist, I was treated kindly by silver people of Jamaican ancestry, in a remote corner of Costa Rica’s rain forest. I was surprised to learn that they were the descendants of a massive labor force of imported Panama Canal “diggers” who were abandoned by the U.S. at the end of the project, and had to spread out in search of work on banana plantations. This book is written in honor of all the “silver people” from all the Caribbean islands and southern Europe, who were paid silver, while Americans and northern Europeans received gold, simply based on skin color. Silver People is also my personal love letter to tropical rain forests.

S.E.: What was something surprising or interesting that you learnt, either about Panamanian history or about yourself (or both), while researching and writing Silver People?  

M.E.: I knew about the Panama Canal Zone’s U.S.-imposed, apartheid-like system of racial discrimination, because my Cuban mother talked about it when I was a child. I was only vaguely aware that most of the Panama Canal’s incomprehensibly vast excavation was accomplished by Caribbean islanders with shovels, not modern equipment. I had no idea that there were hundreds of thousands of laborers, over a period of decades that began with a disastrous attempt by France, and ended with a successful one by the U.S.

S.E.: As a children’s and young adult writer, you are known for your historical picturebooks and verse novels that combine poetry, history and biography to tell stories about the Cuban experience. How and why did you hit upon this particular “formula” if you will, for writing books? Why the verse novel form in particular?

M.E.: It is a passion. When I was writing my first two young adult verse novels, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Surrender Tree, I fell madly in love with the form. Now, every time I try to go back to prose, I find myself feeling unsatisfied. I need free verse. This form allows me to distill complex historical situations down to their emotional essence. I am more interested in asking questions with my books, than in trying to answer them. My recurring question is, “What did it feel like to live in that time and place? I invite modern young readers to join me in wondering about the young people of long ago, who often managed to make hopeful choices in times that must have seemed hopeless.

A writer's life: Conducting historical research
S.E.: Your books are largely biographies and so your characters are either imagined historical people or real life historical figures like the Swedish traveler Fredrika Bremer in Firefly Letters and the celebrated Cuban poet Juan Francisco Manzano in Poet Slave of Cuba. What are some of the things you have had to consider when bringing historical characters to life in general and in Silver People in particular?

M.E.: Because my books are verse novels rather than academic biographies, “poetic license” allows me to imagine missing details. Nevertheless, I am happiest when a first person diary is available, which was true for both Bremer and Manzano. I did not have to imagine events, because they wrote about their own lives, and all I had to do was wonder how those events felt.

In the case of Silver People, I read many first person accounts, in order to develop composite characters. The topic of Panama Canal construction is so incredibly enormous that I could only portray a few people. Many characters were written out of early drafts, in order to avoid losing the emotional impact of wondering about the lives of individuals. I chose to focus on a Cuban character for reasons of cultural familiarity, even though the vast majority of laborers were from Jamaica and Barbados. I hope writers from those islands, and from Panama, will also offer their own portrayals, which I will be eager to read.

S.E.: Typically your books have multiple characters who speak in first-person free verse. In Silver People, along with the voices of the West Indian labourers, you’ve included the voices of the animals and trees of the Panama rainforest. Tell us a bit about what voice means to you and about the nature of voice in your work. How do you go about creating unique voices for your characters and is this difficult to do?

M.E.: Writing the voices of animals and trees came so naturally to me that I don’t know if I will ever feel entirely human again. Perhaps it is because I am a botanist and birdwatcher, married to an entomologist, but also because I love to imagine. Imagine the tropics without rain forest. Imagine the future without biological diversity. Imagine the laments of falling trees, the protests of howler monkeys, the survival strategies of butterflies and snakes… I hope children can learn some basic rain forest biology from these voices. I also hope they learn about balance. The Panama Canal was the first modern engineering project of its magnitude.  Even today, it is viewed as a symbol of man’s conquest of nature. Imagine if someday, somehow, people who are just children now, will grow up to be adults who learn how to balance “progress” and conservation. I hope teachers will let children choose voices to read out loud. What twelve-year-old would not instinctively understand the territorial rage of howlers, or the shy camouflage of sloths?

S.E.: You were born in Los Angeles, the child of a Cuban immigrant mother, and have lived in the United States all your life. Cuban history, culture and people figure predominantly in your work. How have you maintained your connection to Cuba and what made you focus on Cuba as your writing material?

M.E.: Childhood summers in Cuba were the magnet that keeps drawing me back. I have returned many times since 1991, but during the worst of Cold War isolation, from before the 1962 Missile Crisis until after the fall of the Soviet Union, I could not travel to Cuba. Those were decades of imagining. The island became more than a real place. It was the emotional center of my childhood’s universe, and now it is the magic-realistic center of my poetry. I just completed a childhood memoir that has helped me clarify my hyphenated self.  I have, however, also branched out. Two of my new books for younger children, When You Wander, and Mountain Dog, are set in the U.S., because my husband is a volunteer K-9 handler, and our dogs are wilderness SAR dogs, trained to find lost hikers in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I spend part of every weekend hiding in the forest near Yosemite, so the dogs can practice finding a lost person. It is a huge part of my “real life.” I also have a picture book called Tiny Rabbit’s BIG WISH, coming out in March, and one due out next year, about orangutans, inspired by a visit to a wildlife refuge in Borneo.

S.E.: I always look forward to seeing the cover art for your books; I find the covers quite distinctive. Raúl Colón did the cover art for Silver People and also for Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. I am a Raúl Colón fan myself. Do you ever collaborate with illustrators and do you place a high value on what the covers of your books look like?

M.E.: Thank you!  I am so incredibly fortunate to have wonderful editors who choose marvelous artists. Most of my covers are by illustrators chosen by Reka Simonsen. I am a Raúl Colón fan too, so I am thrilled that he agreed to do two of my book covers. When I saw Silver People, it took my breath away. The faces, the forest, the butterflies, frog, monkey…it’s absolutely perfect for this story, because he painted beauty and hope, but there is a shovel too. Hard work. A struggle…

S.E.: Most children’s writers come to the craft of writing stories for children with a specific vision for reaching child readers. What is the hope or message that propels you as a children’s author and what do you think Caribbean children in particular can gain from reading your books?

M.E.: I hope children from the Caribbean will realize that their history has not yet been told. Only the mainland view is available for most topics. Young people will be the ones who can grow up and research, write, correct errors of misunderstanding…I also hope that children from any background will be able to identify with the universal themes of freedom and justice. I hope readers enjoy the adventure of history, experiencing books as a form of time travel. I hope they fall in love with poetry---I know some teachers avoid poetry because they assume it will be hard to understand, but that’s not true of novels written in free verse. These books have friendly pages, with just a few simple words, and a great deal of open space that can be filled in by the reader’s own imagination. I hope children will see my books as gardens where they can plant their own thoughts.



About the Interviewer

Summer Edward was born in Trinidad and lives in Philadelphia, USA. She is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. Her poems and art have been published in literary magazines such as Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, tongues of the oceanBIM: Arts for the 21st CenturyPhiladelphia StoriesThe Columbia ReviewThe Caribbean Writersx salon and more. She was shortlisted for the 2012 Small Axe Literary Prize in the fiction category. She blogs at www.summeredward.com.