Spotlight

[Word from the Editor] What’s Important to Us? -The Value of Books, Libraries and Kid Lit in Caribbean Societies


Word from the Editor
Summer Edward



Today is World Values Day, an opportunity for us to think about our most deeply held values and to act on them. Earlier this year, the Caribbean Research Empowerment Network- CREN (a project of The University of the West Indies Family Development Centre) interviewed us for their Advocacy Works! Spotlight and asked us to articulate our mission. That interview gave me a chance to think about the values underlying Anansesem, both our online forum and our literacy advocacy work.

The World Values Day website states:
Values are what make us who we are. They are the compass guiding everything we do – our choices and our actions. When we forget that compass, we take the wrong turn. It’s the same for our families, for our communities, for the world. Our values show us the way. If we are aware of our values and put them into action each and every day, we can change our lives and change the world we live in.


It’s made me think...so what's our compass here at Anansesem? How do we support the growth of a values-driven children’s literature community that responds to what Jamaican-American poet and activist June Jordan called the “urgencies” of today’s Caribbean societies? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and that I continue to think about.

We’ve all heard the bankrupt talk about the erosion of values in Caribbean societies. The idea that Caribbean people don’t care about things like reading and literary issues gets a lot of limelight, but my personal experience has shown me otherwise. The many teachers, parents, booksellers and librarians I’ve talked to over the years care deeply about the types of books children are reading. They are very concerned about the fact that Caribbean children too often don’t see themselves reflected in the very important stories of childhood.

Readers of our ezine care about things like young people’s access to quality literature, children’s literacy development and making culturally-responsive education the norm for future generations.

To characterize our societies as non-literate and static is to veil and dismiss the efforts of the many who have worked in the trenches to make cultural/literary enrichment available to young people, and to ensure that Caribbean children see healthy images of their cultures reflected in the mirror of books and other media. Not only that; when we “talk down” our literacies and our literary development, we tend to delegitimize the very real hunger that Caribbean children and youth have for books and set up harmful self-fulfilling prophecies that block young people from reaping the full benefits of a literate life.

If our values are the compass that guide us, then our compass has four main "directions". Here are the four foundational values underlying our magazine.



1. Books and Reading

Here at Anansesem, we insist on the personal, social and cultural value of reading for Caribbean young people and their families. The benefits of reading for children are well-documented. Reading opens minds and doors. Reading teaches children the importance and power of language, enhances concentration and discipline, builds vocabulary, stimulates cognitive development and boosts academic achievement. As children's book editor Janet Schulman once said, books "help give children a leg up on the ladder of life."

We affirm the educational and communal value of the read-aloud experience in individual and group sessions, something that is backed by extensive research. Read-alouds promote literacy growth, build enthusiasm for reading, help children become lifelong readers, strengthen child-caregiver relationships, teach children how to have accountable conversations about books, and help create reading communities where children can learn from each other and have positive bonding experiences.

When we read picturebooks in particular, we enhance children’s visual literacy and teach them about the power of the image to render the visible world.

We believe in the consoling power of books and of the reading process itself; books have the power to reach vulnerable youth and help them cope with mental, physical, emotional, or social challenges.

We insist on the right of children and adolescents to be bookworms and to read whatever they like (within healthy limits). Let children and young people read.



2. Libraries

We insist on the value of libraries as free and safe spaces that help children and youth prepare for school and for life. We insist on the necessity of thriving libraries in Caribbean schools and communities— libraries that evolve, innovate and meet patrons where they are through outreach.

For young people, libraries are creative spaces and the cornerstone of free access to information. Libraries are purveyors of knowledge in democractic societies. They provide critical community assets through stories and resource preservation. Importantly, we assert the value of libraries as cultural heritage institutions- sites for the production, dissemination and acquisition of cultural capital.

We insist on the right of children and adolescents to be avid and respected library patrons.



3. Children's Literature

It's probably obvious that we insist on the importance of children’s literature, but what exactly is it about children's literature that makes us passionate about it?

Children’s literature is important because it bestows upon children the currency of lifelong happiness— a childhood filled with joy, laughter and imagination. As Trinidad-born children’s author Floella Benjamin often says, “childhood lasts a lifetime.”

Children’s literature is important because it provides young people with opportunities to respond to literature in ways that build cognitive functions such as the ability to think critically, form their own opinions, express themselves through language, and summarize information.

Children’s literature is important because it helps young people (as well as the adults who read to them) appreciate their own cultural heritage as well as those of others. Books are “mirrors” and “windows” in which children can see their own cultural realities reflected, or “peek into” other cultures. Developing positive attitudes toward our own culture and the cultures of others fosters self-pride, empathy and cross-cultural competency, and promotes overall personal and social development.

Children’s literature is important because it helps young people develop emotional intelligence. Stories have the power to promote emotional and moral development and help develop children’s personality and social skills.

Children’s literature is important because stories expand the imagination, nurturing growth and development of children's creativity.

Children’s literature must be valued because it transmits important literary work, traditions and themes from one generation to the next.

We especially insist on the value of culturally-relevant and culturally-authentic children's literature., i.e., “children’s books that reference Caribbean children’s own physical likenesses, beliefs, and immediate everyday experiences. Such literature provides the crucial mirror or cultural reflection that children need in order to work out their value in society, see where they fit in, and develop a positive self-concept. Studies have shown that reading culturally-relevant literature: helps children better understand and engage more deeply with texts; successfully prepares young people for active citizenry in a democratic society; enhances young learners’ confidence and critical thinking skills; preserves and extends local traditions in an educational context; and builds children’s reading and writing proficiency.” [1]

We insist on what Clementine Beauvais, a Cambridge University PhD in children's literature, calls a “committed children’s literature”. A committed children’s literature challenges the status quo, is usefully subversive and encourages children to envision and enact change.



4. Children’s Publishing

We recognize the importance of being producers and not just consumers of books. We affirm the value of independent-publishing, community-based publishing, self-publishing and other creative approaches to publishing for the production of culturally-authentic children’s books.

We recognize the long and distinguished history of self-publishing in general, and in particular, in Caribbean societies and other societies marginalized by “mainstream” publishing. We affirm the value of many approaches to publishing children’s books as a way to counter the discrimination inherent in “mainstream” publishing.

We insist on the cultural and societal value of the children’s author and the children’s illustrator whether they are based in the Caribbean or nationals residing abroad.

We value the efforts of everyone involved in the development and production of Caribbean children’s books, and insist on their right to respect and renumeration. We insist on the children’s writer’s right to work, and we affirm the importance of funding and other supports for the work of the children’s writer.

We insist on the value of children’s writers speaking from their own personal and cultural perspectives without censorship.



I’ll leave you with these words from the World Values Day Guide:

If we don’t live our values to the full in our lives, then the communities we live in won’t live those values either. If our communities don’t reflect our values, then the wider world won’t reflect either. And so it won’t be a world we want to live in, where we can be fulfilled and happy.

To change the world for the better, we have to change the behaviours that currently make our world go round. And the only way to do that is for all of us to live our own values to the full.


Take good care,

Summer Edward
Foundress and Managing Editor



References

[1] Quote from “Cultural Authenticity in the Emerging Caribbean Picturebook Aesthetic” by Summer Edward (essay in sx salon.)

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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