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Quiz- How well do you know Caribbean children’s literature?

Who doesn't love quizzes? We do! It's been a while since we've been itching to create our very own quiz, and now, thanks to Qzzr, we've done just that. Our Children’s Books Trivia Quiz will put your knowledge of Caribbean literature for young readers to the test, covering everything from character names to author trivia to the plots of beloved stories. See how well you know some of the best-loved Caribbean children’s books around, and don’t forget to share your results on Facebook and Twitter afterwards.

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Summer & Fall 2016 Releases- Caribbean Books for Children & YAs

The year 2016 has already been an interesting year for Caribbean children's and young adult books. The spring release cycle brought us breakout books like Malaika's Costume by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nadia L. Hohn with illustrations by Irene Luxbacher and the YA novel A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. Another YA debut, Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay, marks the Jamaican's author's first crossover into writing for younger audiences.

There have also been some noteworthy new works from veteran authors, of which Eric Velasquez's picturebook Looking for Bongo and Full Moon Night in Silk Cotton Village: A Collection of Caribbean Folk Tales by John Agard and Grace Nichols with illustrations by Rosie Woods stand out particularly. In February, Agard's typically quirky chapter book Going Batty was also released. Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina already looks to be another triumph for the award-winning Cuban-American author.

With Puerto Rican-American author Daniel Jose Older's YA novel Shadowshaper recently named a New York Times bestseller and Trinidadian John Lyon's children's poetry collection Dancing in the Rain shortlisted for the 2016 CLPE Children's Poetry Award (CLiPPA) last month, there is much to be excited about in regional children's and YA literature right now. Check out our seasonal listing of highly-touted new titles to be released later this year.

*All book synopses from the publisher's website.

Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words
by Margarita Engle
YA novel. Pub date: August 2016

In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and nearly-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.

So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that violence will not be the only way to gain liberty.

Boonoonoonous Hair
by Olive Senior (Author) and Laura James (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: November 2016

In this beautifully illustrated picture book written by Commonwealth Prize-winning author Olive Senior and illustrated by the much-acclaimed artist of Anna Carries Water a little girl learns to love her difficult-to-manage curly hair.

Where Do They Go?
by Julia Alvarez (Author) and Sabra Field (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: September 2016

Bestselling novelist (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and children's (The Tia Lola Stories) author Julia Alvarez's new picture book is a beautifully crafted poem for children that gently addresses the emotional side of death. The book asks, "When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? ... Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, 'You're perfect, just as you are'? ..." Illustrated by Vermont woodcut artist, Sabra Field, Where Do They Go? is a beautiful and comforting meditation on death, asking questions young readers might have about what happens to those they love after they die.

The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
YA novel. Pub date: November 2016

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Plus Don't Miss These Titles from Indie Publishers!

Children of the Spider
by Imam Baksh
YA novel. Pub date: July 2016

Mayali is a girl on the run. Driven by desperation and the search for her father, Mayali leaves behind everything she has ever known on her home world of Zolpash, a land of sulphur and harsh weather, and journeys to Guyana. There she meets Joseph, a boy without the gift of speech but with much to say. Together they go on a daring, cross-country adventure to save earth from the invading Spider gods and their armies. Will their warning come too late? Will anyone even believe them? And will Mayali be able to find her father?

Children of the Spider is a fast-paced adventure. The story moves from the lush hinterlands of Guyana through to the bustling city of Georgetown where the colonial past continues to rub shoulders with the gritty, contemporary world. It is a refreshing take on Caribbean myth and mythology from an interesting new voice.

Children of the Spider won first place in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.

The Flaca Files 2: The Case of the Three Kings
by Alidis Vicente
Chapter book. Pub date: May 2016

Flaca, or Detective Flaca as she prefers to be called, is pleased with her Christmas gifts. Finally, she has the tools needed to do her job: a fingerprint-taking kit, a police-quality mini flashlight, and most exciting of all, police tape to block off crime scenes! However, she is not at all pleased with the airline tickets to Puerto Rico she and her sister La Bruja are given. She has case deadlines to meet! La Bruja isn’t very happy either since their grandmother’s house doesn’t have air conditioning, cable TV or Wi-Fi.

Their parents are sure the girls will enjoy celebrating Three Kings Day, a huge holiday in Latin America that takes place on January 6 and involves putting grass in a box under the bed for the wise men’s camels. Three men on flying camels sounds very suspicious to Detective Flaca, who once again is faced with a case begging to be solved. Where do the Three Kings get the gifts to put in the boxes? Do they steal presents from Santa Claus? Or do they take them from under Christmas trees around the world?

The skinny second grader first introduced in The Case of the Missing Chancleta and Other Top-Secret Cases / La chancleta perdida y otros casos secretos is back on the case in the second installment of the bilingual series, The Flaca Files / Los expedientes de Flaca. Narrated by Detective Flaca in hard-boiled detective style, this short, bilingual novel for intermediate readers will appeal to seasoned and reluctant readers alike.

Dancing in the Rain
by Lynn Joseph
YA novel. Pub date: July 2016

Twelve year-old Elizabeth is no normal girl. With an imagination that makes room for mermaids and magic in everyday life, she lives every moment to the fullest. Yet her joyful world crumbles around her when two planes bring down the Twin Towers and tear her family apart. Thousands of miles away, yet still touched by this tragedy, Elizabeth is swimming in a sea of loss. She finally finds hope when she meets her kindred spirit in 8 year-old Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared.

Brandt and Jared, two boys as different as Oreo and milk and just as inseparable, arrive on the island to escape the mushroom of sorrow that bloomed above their lives in the wake of the tragedy. Elizabeth shows them a new way to look at the world and they help her to laugh again. But can Elizabeth and Brandt help their families see that when life brings showers of sadness, it’s okay to dance in the rain?

Set against the dazzling beauty of the Dominican Republic, Dancing in the Rain explores the impact of the tragic fall of the Twin Towers on two Caribbean families. It is a lyrical, well-crafted tale about finding joy in the face of loss.

Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize.

by Phillis Gershator
YA novel. Pub date: Summer, 2016.

Is this a Cinderella story? Caribel’s stepmother treats her cruelly. But in Caribel’s story, there are also people who care for her: an uncle, who is now her pen pal, a spritely old lady who lives hidden away in the bush, and a devoted school teacher. Caribel hopes that someday she’ll become a real, “inside” member of her family, if only she can be good enough. She tries her best. She does her chores. She wins the school spelling bee.

But what does good enough mean? Can she be good and keep secrets, too? Or speak her mind? Or break a promise? Or, when the time comes, save her own life?

Broo 'Nansi and the Tar Baby
Collected and written by Dr. Lois Hassell-Habtes. Story as told by Ector Roebuck
Picture storybook. Pub date: Summer, 2016.

This Broo ‘Nansi story is the first in a new book series by Little Bell Caribbean appropriately titled Under the Big Tree: Traditional Tales of the Caribbean and Beyond. Our goal is to help preserve and continue the storytelling tradition for many generations to come.

Broo Tukuma knows better, but as the good brother that he is, he can’t watch his nephews starve. So, much against his better judgment, he takes Broo ‘Nansi (that good for nothing fellow) to get food from his secret garden. The trip turns into a disaster when Broo ‘Nansi disobeys his brother’s strict orders.

Another great Broo ‘Nansi story filled with the humor and wisdom that only this ancient little spider can impart. A must-read for all Virgin Islanders, and for anyone who loves a good tale.

Brown Pelicans
by Mario Picayo
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016.

The first book in a new series of books about Caribbean nature.

Whether it flies, runs, crawls, swims, or just sways in the wind, Close to Nature will bring you a book about it. We dedicate our first volume to the brown pelican, a bird that most of us know by sight, but probably have learned little about. Did you know that pelicans have the longest bill of any bird in the world, and that it is one of the few land animals that can drink salt water?

Fully illustrated with stunning photographs taken in the Virgin Islands, Brown Pelicans will educate and delight readers of all ages.

We are Pirates / Somos Pirates
by Adrián Guerra (Author) and Angel Velazoo (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016

Two young readers decide to imitate their favorite book and follow the ways of the pirates by wearing handkerchiefs on their head, patches over one eye, and even making scary faces. But when it comes to having a parrot on their shoulder, things get a little tricky. The only parrot they know belongs to the neighbor. Can they be pirates without a parrot? Or will they have to become real pirates and steal the parrot? A very different children’s pirate book with a funny, surprising, and happy ending.

El Torneo de Trabalenguas / The Tonge Twister Tournament
by Nicolás Kanellos (Author) and Anne Vega (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: October 2016

“Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, doggies, kitties and mousies: Welcome to the grand Tongue Twister Tournament!” And so begins this championship in which the best tongue torturer will win the tongue twister trophy.

The competitors include a variety of quirky characters, including Lengua de Lagarto, or Lizard Tongue, whose tongue is tied “just so.” There’s Grumpy Granny, who raps about a raggedy cat, and El Chupacabras, who loves to eat critters, “even insects are for me / cows and cats and doggies too / chupa chupa chupa cabras, BOO!”

Many of the tongue twisters included in this picture book will be familiar to Spanish-speaking children—and their parents too! But the book also includes tried-and-true tongue twisters familiar to English speakers, like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” With colorful illustrations depicting the unique contestants, this bilingual collection of phrases that are difficult to say quickly will challenge children to excel in both English and Spanish.

Where Did the Baby Go?
by David Gershator (Author) and Phillis Gershator (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016

Oh, no! Is the baby missing? Or hiding in plain sight? The noisy rooster knows where the baby is. Do you?

A dreamy mystery that the reader solves, visually, from the first page. The end of the book includes an added counting element with the sea and shore creatures pictured in the beautiful, vibrant illustrations.

Calling the Water Drum
by LaTisha Redding (Author) and Aaron Boyd (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: October 2016

Henri and his parents leave their homeland, Haiti, after they receive an invitation from an uncle to come to New York City. Only able to afford a small, rickety boat, the family sets out in the middle of the night in search of a better life. Out at sea Henri dreams of what life will be like across the great waters. Then the small boat overturns, and Henri is placed on top of the boat as his parents drift further out at sea. Overcome with grief, Henri retreats into himself and is no longer able to speak once he reaches land.

Encouraged by his uncle and neighbor, Henri takes a bucket and plays on it like a drum. The drumming becomes a link to his past and a conduit for his emotions. Slowly, through his drumming and the kindness of his uncle and friend, Henri learns to navigate this new and foreign world without his parents. Calling the Water Drum is a tender and timely tribute to the bravery of immigrants and refugees, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

A Surprise for Teresita / Una sorpresa para Teresita
by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Author) and Carolyn Dee Flores (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: November 2016

When Teresita opens her eyes that morning, she knows it’s a special day. It’s her birthday, and now she’s a big girl. She’s seven! And her Tío Ramón has promised her a surprise. She can’t wait to find out what it is!

“Is it time for Tío Ramón to come to our block?” she asks her mamá excitedly as she sits down for breakfast. But it’s too early. Her uncle has to take his snow cone cart to the other blocks before he comes to theirs. All day, Teresita watches for the green and white cart. She listens for Tío Ramón calling, “Snow cones, cold snow cones. ¡Piraguas! ¡Piraguas frías!”

While she waits for her uncle, she jumps rope, plays games with her friends and watches the goings-on in her neighborhood. Mothers hold their young children’s hands as they walk to the corner bodega to buy groceries. Boys and girls ride bikes and play stickball. Older people sit at their windows and enjoy the sights and sounds of their community. And coming from far up the block where water sprays from an open fire hydrant, Teresita finally hears the sound of her uncle’s voice. What will her surprise be?!?

Set in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City, this bilingual picture book for children ages 4 – 8 captures both the daily life of an urban community and a child’s excitement about her birthday surprise. Children will be inspired to look at—and maybe even write about—their own neighborhoods with new eyes.


About the Author

Summer Edward is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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Caribbean Books for Children to Read on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day! According to the Earth Day website, the Earth Day campaign is "designed to provide people with the opportunity to unite their voices in a call for a sustainable future." These environmentally-conscious children's books are all set in the Caribbean and can be used to help children and adults alike think about what they can do to help protect and preserve the environment.

1. The Promise of the Pawi by Janice Hernandez, illustrated by Leizelle Guinness
(Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi)

Published by the Guardian Wildlife Trust in collaboration with the Asa Wright Nature Centre (Trinidad), The Promise of the Pawi highlights the plight of Trinidad’s only endemic bird, the endangered Trinidad Piping Guan or Pawi. The Promise of the Pawi is aimed at children 4 to 11 and serves a dual purpose – to educate young readers and to raise funds to support the work of the Trust.

2. Beba and Little Sister Island/ Beba y la Isla Nena by Rafael Landrón, illustrated by Maria Antonia Ordonez
(Campanita Books, 2010)

Beba is a young manatee who works with her animal friends to end the bombing and destruction of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Based on actual events, Beba and Little Sister Island is a fable about how courage, solidarity, and respect for the land and the sea saved a little island for its inhabitants and for generations to come.

3. Bri and Luk: Friends In Times of Changing Climates: Climate Change Adaptation for Caribbean Youth by Nicole Garofano
(Future Centre Trust, 2010)

Bri and Luk: Friends In Times of Changing Climates is the first book in the Future Centre Trust's (Barbados) Climate Change Learning Series designed to help students and their teachers understand the effects of global climate change on Barbados and the region. Here the story of Luk the polar bear unfolds. Luk comes to the Caribbean with his friend Bri the hummingbird to learn from the local animals and children how climate change is beginning to affect them.

4. Jessica by Christine Leo, illlustrated by Kim Harley
(Tamarind Books, 1998)

Jessica is a beautiful mermaid who lives in the Caribbean sea. She surfs the Information Superhighway and the ocean waves with equal ease. She is a traveler, a fighter against pollution and a real friend of the animals of the ocean. With her friends - dolphins, sea horses and other sea creatures - she foils a group of sailors who dump poisonous cargo into the Caribbean sea.

5. The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback by Jana Bent
(KQC Enterprises, 2011)

Mama Edda, the Leatherback Sea Turtle is struggling to get to land. She has to lay her eggs but she's in distress. Can the Reggae Band come up with a way to rescue Mama Edda? This CD storybook gives children hands-on advice for how they can help protect the environment, respecting their power to do something to make a positive change in the world. It teaches the importance of recycling, reducing and reusing waste, with tasks children can easily do.

6. The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

First a seed is jostled from a branch of a mangrove tree and floats far away to a lagoon in the Caribbean Sea. Then it takes root, sprouts leaves, and slowly begins to grow. Over many years, the mangrove will provide a home for numerous creatures of land and sea. This chronicle of the life of one mangrove tree details the abundant wildlife that depends upon its unique and wonderful ecosystem, one that is beneficial to so many, but one that also faces many dangers.

7. My Island and I : The Nature of the Caribbean by Alfonso Silva Lee, illustrated by Alexis Lago
(Pangaea, 2002)

My Island and I is a picturebook about the natural ecology of an island - from fallen trees becoming food for fungi and termites, to the thoughts of lizards and the interaction of fish. How did animals and plants first get to the islands? How do they live together? This enchanting introduction to island biodiversity allows children to visualize relationships between Caribbean creatures and the water and sky—and to see how we, too, are one with each island.

8. Undersea City: A Story of a Caribbean Coral Reef by Dana Meachen, illustrated by Katie Lee
(Soundprints, 1997)

From the beach of Saona Island off the coast of the Dominican Republic, a hermit crab explores the Caribbean coral reef and its creatures. The book and tape introduce the habitat of the coral reef and island beaches to young readers. In addition to the story, there is some background on Saona Island and the Taino people who live there.

9. Ibis Stew? Oh, No! by Joanne Gail Johnson, illustrated by Katie McConnachie
(Macmillan Caribbean, 2005)

This is the story of the evil pirate Captain Bad who sets sail on the Caribbean Sea to hunt down the Scarlet Ibis to make into a stew. However his plans are interrupted when he meets up with Omo and Pete who hatch a plan to try to make him change his ways. Written in the form of a story poem, Ibis Stew serves as a gentle reminder of the importance of conservation of our endangered birds.

10. Shelley written and illustrated by Katherine Orr
(Macmillan Caribbean, 1994)

Shelley tells the life story of the conch shell, Shelley, tracing her life cycle from her beginning as a drifting baby, no bigger than a pinhead, to the time when she produces her own offspring. Fascinating facts about the life of the conch and other marine animals with which it comes into contact show the importance of conserving this beautiful creature. 


About the Author

Summer Edward is the Managing Editor here at Anansesem. Her stories, poems and art have been published in various journals and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.

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Book Giveaway: Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle

To celebrate World Poetry Day and International Day of Forests (March 21, 2016), we'll be giving away a copy of Newbery Honoree and Pura Belpré winner Margarita Engle's middle grade to young adult novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal!

Masterfully written in melodic free verse poetry, Silver People "brings to life every bit of Panama, from the horrible working conditions of the islanders, forced to dig the canal for next-to-nothing wages, to the lush forest and wildlife" (School Library Journal). Engle has described the book as "my personal love letter to [the endangered] tropical rain forests." Many thanks to Margarita Engle for generously donating a signed copy of the book.

Quick 'n' Easy Instructions

  • To be entered into the draw to win, you must fill out and submit the entry form below.
  • Giveaway is open until March 20, 2016 at midnight EST.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age to enter. 
  • The winner will be chosen randomly on World Poetry Day/International Day of Forests (March 21, 2016).
Okay so here's how it works. Some questions on the entry form are entirely optional, others you absolutely must fill out. Fields marked with a red asterisk must be completed. Filling out the optional questions earns you extra entries. Extra entries are a good thing you know, because they increase your chances of winning. The number of extra entries earned per question is indicated after each question on the form. If you fill out the form now and complete more extra entries later, you may enter again (We’ll add them to your first entries).

Thank you for entering, good luck and enjoy #WorldPoetryDay and #IntForestDay!

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Special Segment: Self-Publishing Journeys

by Summer Edward

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

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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Awakening an Interest in History: Interview with Caribbean Adventure Series Author, Carol Mitchell-Ottley

Carol Mitchell-Ottley talks to Summer Edward about her latest middle grade novel, Fury on Soufriere Hills, being nominated for the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and more.

Photo by: Livingstone Jackson

Born in Nevis, Carol Ottley-Mitchell loves books and kids. She has lived in and traveled to many Caribbean countries. She is the author of the Caribbean Adventure Series books, the Chee Chee picturebook series, as well as the picturebook Seascapes, and the YA book, Another Day. Shortly after learning of her Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nomination, Ottley-Mitchell spoke to Summer Edward about her approach to writing, the business of publishing, and the life of a children's author.


S. E.: Let’s talk about your latest book. Fury on Soufriere Hills is Book 4 in the Caribbean Adventure Series. What is it about?

C. M-O.: Fury on Soufriere Hills, or Fury as we affectionately call it, is about volcanoes, adventure, and Amerindians. Mark and Kyle, two characters that feature in earlier books in the Caribbean Adventure Series, hike with a group to the top of Mount Liamiagua in St. Kitts. Frankie, a defiant younger boy, is along for the hike. When Mark attempts to rescue Frankie from the edge of Mount Liamiagua’s crater, they both tumble over the edge. They find themselves in very unfamiliar territory and soon realise that they have not only traveled into the past, as evidenced by the appearance of a Carib boy, but they have for the first time traveled in space, from St. Kitts to the foot of the Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat. The Carib boy saves their lives and in return, with Chee Chee’s help, they are able to assist the Caribs when the volcano threatens to erupt.

S.E.: The 1996 eruption of the Soufriere volcano is one of those watershed moments in recent Caribbean history, certainly in the history of Caribbean natural disasters. How does one tackle the reality of natural disasters in a work of children’s fiction? It certainly is a pertinent issue in today’s world isn’t it? 

C. M-O.: Natural disasters and the possible impact of global warming are certainly topical issues and Fury tackles the very relevant issue of a child who is displaced by a natural disaster. My intention in the Caribbean Adventure Series is first and foremost to draw young readers in with secret tunnels, pirate ships, kidnappers, and erupting volcanoes galore. As a result, I introduce serious issues in the lightest manner possible without being trite.

For example, the first book in the series, Adventure at Brimstone Hill is set in the Caribbean in the 17th century and so it is impossible to ignore the reality of slavery, however, it is not the center of the story and so I touch on it very briefly. Similarly in Fury, although one of the characters is angry about being displaced by the volcanic eruptions, unlike many real-life refugees, he is living in a safe environment and in the end … well, I’ll let you read the book to see how it all turns out.

S.E.: The Caribbean Adventure Series is a time-travel/historical fiction/adventure series of children’s novels set in various Caribbean islands. In the world of fiction, it’s something that’s rarely ever been done. You’re reimagining aspects of Caribbean history that are simultaneously over-stereotyped and underexamined―pirates, the physical landscape, and in Fury on Soufriere Hills, the indigenous Amerindians, and you’re doing it for a children’s audience. Do you ever feel like you’re farming in an empty plot? I guess I want to know what it takes to build up these kinds of stories from scratch?

C. M-O.: To be honest, I never thought of the series as being ground-breaking, but perhaps in the Caribbean context it is. I am very happy to be filling a niche that may be needed, awakening an interest in Caribbean history by placing modern day children into past scenarios.

To a large extent the stories build themselves. The initial spark might be something that I see or read and then the rest of the ideas come as I write. Often the original ideas are discarded and replaced with more feasible ones. Sometimes I am stuck for long periods. In Fury, the children in the book sat in the shadow of the volcano eruption in Montserrat for months as I tried out different scenarios for escape. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach to writing, but it is what works for me.

S.E.: The Caribbean Adventure Series is your most recognizable work, but you’ve also authored the Chee Chee’s Adventure Series, which is a picturebook  series, and another picturebook, Seascapes. Do you thrive more writing novels or picturebooks and why? 

C. M-O.: If I had to choose, I would have to say that I am a short story writer at heart. There is something satisfying about putting a complete idea across in one sitting. As I write this I can picture the satisfied looks on children’s faces after hearing the ‘happily ever after’ ending of a story. However, I also enjoy the scope for depth and revelation that the novel affords and Caribbean children novels are what I think is necessary to fulfill my desire to encourage Caribbean children of all ages to read. I have already written two more short stories to finish up the Chee Chee’s Adventure Series, and I have been commissioned to do some short stories on a particular topic. My plan is, however, to focus on novels going forward.

S.E.: This August you self-published your first young adult novel, Another Day, a book about a fifteen-year-old teen who struggles to find her place in a new environment. What inspired your crossover from children’s literature to young adult fiction? And while we’re talking YA, what do you make of the Caribbean YA market today? 

C. M-O.: I started Another Day several years ago while I was living in Ghana. I was working on one of the Caribbean Adventure Series books when the story popped into my head of a girl going through a difficult time after moving to a new country and communicating via messenger with the best friend that she left behind. At the time I thought it was a short story so I started writing it, but it began to morph into something more and I had to put it aside while I completed the work that I had in process. While I was battling with the ending for Fury, I came across the story in my notebook and decided to make it my next project.

So the reality is that I did not make a conscious decision to write a young adult novel. The story that I started in Ghana was about a teenager who was having experiences involving alcohol, drugs, and romance and so one could say that it announced itself as a young adult novel. Once I decided to complete Another Day, I read a lot of novels with teenaged protagonists to help me to prepare, however, I must admit that none of them were by Caribbean authors or even Caribbean themed. I am really familiar with very few YA novels by Caribbean authors, and my impression is that we really need many more Caribbean books for this age group. I’ve read a couple of books that are labelled as young adult because the main protagonists are teens, however, I find that they are so explicitly focused on the sexual aspect of the coming of age experience that I would recommend only to the oldest tranche of the YA group.

S.E.: You are well known for your writing, but you’re also a publisher. Give us an overview of your publishing house, CaribbeanReads. 

CaribbeanReads is a small publishing company dedicated to serving talented Caribbean authors. Our aim is to make publishing more accessible to potential Caribbean authors and to increase the number of high-quality books about and for the Caribbean. Basically CaribbeanReads offers all of the services necessary to get the book from a draft into a finished product, for example, editing, type-setting, layout, and illustration. We do not provide any major marketing effort. Things have been moving slowly but we are working with a couple of authors.

Signing books at the Montserrat Public Library
S.E.: Most children’s authors will tell you that they aren’t in this field for the money. What has the commercial side of being a children’s author taught you?

C. M-O.: Relatively few children’s authors make it big enough to make a comfortable living on writing alone and I do believe that most of us are driven by a passion for words and expression. Children’s authors in the Caribbean are perhaps at an even greater disadvantage because of a number of issues including lack of resources, the small market size and problems distributing books across geographically diverse markets. I honestly write because I have to and I am driven forward by the thought that my work may encourage even one child to read.

I recently received an email from a colleague who told me that her nephew was in the hospital for a few days and in that time, without the distraction of the TV and other electronics, he picked up the second book in the Caribbean Adventure Series, Pirates at Port Royal. He read it and regaled her with details about the story all the way home from the hospital. This is what keeps me going.

I think that it is very important, however, that parents begin to encourage and support Caribbean children’s authors by insisting that the education system incorporate a wider range of quality Caribbean children’s literature into the curriculum.

S.E.: You were nominated for the 2014 international Astrid Lindgren Memorial award. It’s the world’s largest children’s literature award and only a few Caribbean children’s authors have ever been nominated. Do you think this nomination signals a new era for Caribbean children’s literature? 

C. M-O.: I certainly hope that my nomination will shine a spot light on Caribbean children’s literature and encourage more nominating bodies to actively seek out and submit our work.

S.E.: You have two children, you travel, you run a publishing house, and yet you somehow find time to write. From one writer to another, please tell me how you do it!

C. M-O.: Very little sleep and lots of caffeine. Just kidding. I’m not sure that I’m a good model. When I look at how many books Enid Blyton churned out, or the number of books in the Magic Tree House series, I feel like a real slacker with only nine books under my belt.

But seriously, the basic principal is consistency. Carve out a couple hours out of your day that you dedicate to writing and stick with it as much as possible. For me, this is at night after the children have gone to bed at which point I try to dedicate two hours to writing. Sometimes this plan works better than others, but even when I don’t get it done for a while, I get back on track whenever I can. In addition, I’m always turning over my work-in-process in my head, scribbling notes on a scene while I’m cooking or recording ideas (handsfree) on my phone while I’m driving.

S.E.: You’ve collaborated with UK illustrator Ann-Catherine Loo on the Caribbean Adventures Series books. Her artistic style― realistic pencil illustrations― embraces literal representation. Historically, Caribbean children’s book illustration has favored cartoon, folk, or impressionistic styles, so the illustrative realism of the CAS books seems like a notable illustrative shift in Caribbean children’s literature. Is this something you actively thought about in your choice of an illustrator? What might illustrative realism contribute to Caribbean children’s literature in general?

C. M-O.: I came across Ann-Catherine when I was just starting out and we have had a wonderful partnership over the years. I was looking for someone who could deliver in a short time frame and with whom I could maintain a very professional relationship. Illustrative realism—I did not have a term for it then, but I knew it when I saw it—was my top priority in choosing an illustrator. I believe that Caribbean children really need to see themselves portrayed in books the way they see themselves in the mirror. I wanted children to pick up my books because they were drawn to the images on the front cover. The look of a book is of paramount importance in encouraging a child to read, and too often we don’t pay enough attention to cover design as a medium for drawing children (and parents) towards our books.

So, I reviewed the work of several artists, especially looking at the way that they portrayed people of colour before settling on Ann-Catherine. I was also very upfront with her about why I chose her and what I wanted from the illustrations. Since the Caribbean Adventure Series I have worked with two Caribbean illustrators, Vanessa Soodeen who illustrated Seascapes and Cherise Ward who illustrated Another Day. These ladies reaffirmed my belief in Caribbean illustrators. Both women were extremely professional, handled my indecision with great patience, and produced exceptional work. I intend to continue to use Ann-Catherine for future publications for the Caribbean Adventure Series and the Chee Chee’s Adventures, however, I hope to continue to discover Caribbean artists in subsequent publications.

S.E.: I’ve heard the complaint that too many successful Caribbean children’s writers live abroad. You were born in Nevis and spent most of your adult life between the Caribbean, the US and Ghana. Travel seems to be a way of life for you. Is there a case to be made for travelling and migration in terms of the writing life? Also, I’m curious, why Ghana? 

C. M-O.: The number of successful Caribbean writer’s living abroad begs the question: are they successful because they have moved abroad or does the experience of living abroad improve their writing thus making them successful? The answer is probably a little bit of both. It is difficult to become a successful author in the Caribbean. The publishing houses are few and tend to focus on academic publications. Many publishers in the US and the UK focus on books produced by their nationals. As a result, migration is often a key ingredient for successful authors.

In addition, the Bible’s pronouncement that “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own hometown …” is too often proven true in the Caribbean context. We tend to wait for our artists to receive foreign accolades before we recognize them at home. On the other hand, while I don’t think that foreign experience is a necessary ingredient in a writer, I will say that experiencing other cultures helps you to better describe your own because you can identify, appreciate, and thus portray the idiosyncrasies more clearly.

Sharing Chee Chee's story with kindergartners
S.E.: The life of an author is interesting, even more so the life of a children’s author. Children’s authors always tell the best stories about their work, especially their encounters with children. What’s one thing that a child reader did or said that you will never forget?

C. M-O.: Do I have to choose just one? One of the best parts of my job as a children’s writer is doing school visits. I relish the interactions with the children and the fresh perspectives that they express. One of my more heartening experiences was when I did a book launch/writing workshop in Ghana. I invited a number of children, mainly expatriates, but there was a road block on the main thoroughfare to get to the venue and so many people were unable to attend. It turned out that there was a reading programme finishing up at the venue just as we were getting ready to start. It had been attended by disadvantaged children in the neighbourhood who had difficulty reading. I invited those children to join in the workshop. At first their participation was tentative but by the end they were raising their hands and thoroughly enjoying the activities. It was wonderful because their life experiences brought a new perspective into the discussions. I sincerely believe that the event resonated longer with those children than most of the original invitees for whom access to books and education was never an issue.



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 Review, The 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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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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Shining a Light on the Human Condition in Books for Children: Interview with Vashanti Rahaman

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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This Month's Books