Spotlight

[Featured Illustrators] Jade Achoy





In 2014, Plain Vision Publishing published Jade Ahoy's first illustrated children's book, written by her librarian mother Grace Achoy. The Black Lake is loosely based on an Amerindian legend about the formation of the Pitch Lake, the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, found in the town of La Brea in southwest Trinidad.

The book tells the story of a little Amerindian girl named Tacumeh, the daughter of the village cacique (chief) and how she escapes death when the Pitch Lake is formed. Tacumeh, her brother Hisran and their parents live with their tribe in the lush green fields of La Brea. Their idyllic lives are turned upside one day when the villagers get their god angry, and life changes drastically for Tacumeh.

All of the illustrations were digitally created using Adobe Photoshop. The shadowy palette and heavy, dark lines convey a sense of mystery appropriate for an origin myth, and foreshadow the dark forces at play when "strange men" attack and pillage Tacumeh's village and chaos and fire break out. Achoy commented:

The illustration "Tacumeh with Hummingbird" focuses on the loveliness of Tacumeh and her unique connection with the hummingbird. I spent the longest time working on the details of the "Amerindian Village" illustration; it was fun to imagine and visualize the daily activities and lifestyles of the Amerindians. I wanted the cover of the book to provide the reader with a sense of the story, mood and mystery.
Tacumeh with Hummingbird

Amerindian Village

Book cover

The Resistance


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

The Caribbean has a colourful, bright and vibrant culture and upbeat lifestyle. From my perspective, illustration helps to capture this wonderful culture that teems with rich stories of the pursuit of happiness, overcoming trials, and folklore from an amalgamation of people with diverse origins who came to the Caribbean. Ergo, Caribbean illustration can meaningfully showcase folklore and culture, and encourage the love of reading as the illustrations bring the words and ideas to life and provide enjoyment to a reader. Illustration can be inculcated like a hearty, filling and delicious slice of the Caribbean.


Biography

Jade Achoy graduated from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in 2010 and from Savannah College of Art Design in 2012. Her work ranges from identity and branding to illustrated children's books. Jade is currently a secondary school teacher, a freelance illustrator and part-time lecturer at the University of West Indies. She lives in Trinidad and Tobago with her family and two dogs, Trixie and Chance, where she likes to draw cute things and artistically depict Caribbean culture and life. Jade's work has been featured by STAN Magazine (UWI), Animae Caribe Festival (2010), Arc Magazine and Trinidad and Tobago's Guardian and Newsday newspapers.





Read More

[Book Review] Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay



Diana McCaulay (Author)
Papillote Press, 2016
YA novel, ages 12 and up



The young adult novel Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay presents the story of how truth is discovered through losses. Lloyd is a twelve-year-old Jamaican boy who loves his grandfather Maas Conrad. It has been two weeks since his grandfather left for a fishing expedition to Pedro Cays and while all the people in the community know there is something preventing Maas Conrad's return, only Lloyd is willing to find out the true reason. 

Lloyd defies all odds to discover the mystery of his grandfather’s disappearance at sea, despite warnings from the adults that Maas Conrad may be gone for good. It is through this journey that the reader discovers the tangled lies that surround Lloyd’s family as he races against time to rescue his grandfather. The story is set in Jamaica, juxtaposing the richness of the Caribbean milieu with the universality of the challenges our globalized societies face. 

The story unravels the events that led to Maas Conrad's disappearance in multiple voice narrative. The main narrative is told in third person point of view. It gives the reader a macroscopic view of the issues that lead to Maas Conrad's disappearance while fishing in Pedro Cays. Lloyd's quest to rescue Maas Conrad takes center stage while the discoveries of what really happened in this community unfolds through this point of view.

The story periodically switches to Maas Conrad's first person voice as he battles against the challenges of being stranded on a solitary island without water or food, and with an injury. This microscopic perspective opens the Caribbean world of Maas Conrad: his ancestral beliefs and the transformation his island has undergone due to illegal fishing, pollution and the tourist trade. Both narratives merge to give a richness of perspectives, ultimately suggesting that not only Maas Conrad has “gone to drift,” but many of the adults who are supposed to be guiding Lloyd into adulthood.

The livelihood of fishing is at the heart of Lloyd's community. His grandfather is a fisherman who comes from a long line of fishermen, each of whom experienced his people’s growing indifference to nature and the tragic consequences of such. Fishing reserves have been depleted causing a disruption in the economic stability of the community. Vernon Saunders, Lloyd's father, has not followed the fishermen's footsteps but has “gone to drift” in many ways, from abandoning his family to his collaboration in illegal dolphin fishing practices that go against moral values. 

While the disappearance of Maas Conrad is the core of the plot of this novel, it is only the tip of the iceberg considering the complexity of the societal and environmental problems facing his community, and by extension the world. The illegal traffic of dolphins is not a situation unique to the Caribbean, but a global issue with serious implications. The individual’s quest for economic survival leads to morally and legally questionable decisions. Lloyd ends up in the middle of this battle and learns that many of the people he believed to be respectable hold secrets. The world as he knew it crumbles into dust as he tries to figure out what is really true. 

The novel is a bildungsroman of our contemporary world. It is through the unveiling of painful truths─ about his parents, his community and his world─ that Lloyd is able to find the answers he is seeking. The story poses moral questions to the reader that are not easy to answer. Can an immoral decision be justified in the name of human survival? This is the question that is interwoven throughout the story as Lloyd meets the different characters that give him the missing pieces to the puzzle of Maas Conrad's disappearance. Through the eyes and worlds of Jules, Black Crab, Lloyd's mother, Vernon Saunders and Slowly, both Lloyd and the reader discover that the world is full of shades of gray. At the same time, the voice of Maas Conrad provides depth and wisdom for understanding how past events shape the world we live in.

As an educator, I celebrate the portrayal of the love between a grandchild and grandparent. In contemporary life, grandparents have had to break away from paradigms imposed by Western society. Many of our grandparents have very active roles in raising and protecting their grandchildren. These roles have been silenced for too long. It is time that literary works show how grandparents' legacies shape the roles the new generations undertake. Maas Conrad is the anchor and compass in Lloyd Saunders' life, guiding him into a world of truth.

Gone to Drift is a beautiful and profound realistic fiction novel full of suspense that keeps the reader turning pages to discover the cause of Maas Conrad's disappearance. At the same time, the ending leaves the reader in a labyrinth of emotions, wondering how Lloyd will now face his world. Lloyd understands that the price he paid to discover the truth is the loss of the world he once knew. The novel, which was the second prize winner of CODE's Burt Award for Caribbean Literature in 2015, is an ideal literary work for young adult readers to see that life is full of ambiguities and that the power of love can overcome what can appear to be insurmountable obstacles. Lloyd's determination showed how true love can be the strongest weapon of all.


About the Author

Dr. Carmen Milagros-Torres is an Associate Editor here at Anansesem. She is an English professor who teaches Children’s Literature (INGL 4326) and Literature for Adolescents (INGL 4327) at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Her articles on Puerto Rican children’s literature have appeared in Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, PRTESOLGram and Caribbean Without Borders: Beyond the Can[n]on’s Range (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). She has presented her research on Afro-Puerto Rican children’s literature at various conferences and sits on the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican English Writers Association.

Read More

28 Surefire Ways to Keep your Children’s or YA Book on the Radar




Regardless of how well a book is written, critical praise doesn’t always translate into sales, and often even well-reviewed books disappear, out-of-print within a couple of years. No matter how much publicity and support your publisher offers, you are the best advocate for your book, and there are actions you can take to prolong its life in print.

Perhaps you’re about to publish a first book and have no idea what to expect. Maybe you’re a seasoned pro looking for new ideas on promoting your books. Either way, here are some strategies to put your book over the top.

  1. Begin laying the groundwork for promotion six months before your book is published. Write a press release and e-mail it to newspapers and TV stations closer to the publication date along with a review or two if you have them. If newspapers have a lifestyle editor or a Sunday team reach out to them as well. Keep contacts lists of reporters and remember to invite them to signings and other events.

  1. Find a public relations ally. If you can’t hire one then barter. Find a friend or a student and offer to edit their writing for free in exchange for helping you with publicity. This may sound extreme, but book publicity can be grueling work and it helps so much to have a friend with a sense of humor who “gets it.”

  1. Use the internet; search engines are your friend. Research as much as you can and look at comments and reviews to find tips about sites you should be reading up on. Check out writing groups and ask for assistance or information on who can help you with your publishing journey.

  1. Make flyers and/or bookmarks. Start with 100 copies. You can leave stacks in bookstores, restaurants and libraries, or hand them out on school visits. Always be prepared with something to hand out.

  1. Set up a website where caregivers and children can write to you and learn more about the world of the book and what you do as an author. Peruse other author sites to get ideas.

  1. Update your website regularly. Offer creative writing ideas, story prompts and giveaways.

  1. Send out e-mail blasts as often as you feel comfortable, but don’t overdo it; three or four times a year is a good rule of thumb, and only if there are real updates. Be wary of e-mailing in bulk too often.

  1. Create your Facebook page long before the book is due. Post funny sayings, as well as other books, so that when your book is finally out, you will have a following that you can interact with. Don’t wait.

  1. Use the giveaway feature on the Goodreads and Booklikes websites. Readers all over the world will add your book to their shelf in hopes of winning a copy.

  1. Join a fiction writers or picturebook listserv or online group. There is Goodreads Lovers of Diversity and Folklore Group. Caribbean Writers, SCBWI Caribbean Chapters and SocaMom Book Club are all Facebook Groups you can request to join. Follow Anansesem Caribbean children’s literature ezine, Caribbean Books Foundation and Caribbean blogs. Look for blogs about the world of children’s literature. There are many great children’s and young adult (YA) book blogs. Reading one will lead you to many more. Children’s and YA book bloggers are the ones who keep your books alive so ask them to feature you. Send them your books to review and thank them. Only devote a little time each day to these blogs; you want to be protective of your writing time.

  1. Create your own book tour by visiting literary festivals. Tight budget? Lodge with friends and family or contact the SCBWI regional advisor in your area to see if a nearby member might have a guest room available. Make yourself available to promote your book with copies on hand. Rent the cheapest rental car and purchase airline tickets through inexpensive online travel sites.

  1. Visit bookstores before your book comes out—six months is a good rule of thumb. Set up e-mail correspondence with the store manager, or the person in charge of scheduling author visits or promotions. Set up dates for the book signings/writing workshops. If you just have a handful of review copies, make photocopies or send a .pdf to select book reviewers. This works especially well for regional newspapers or magazines. Smaller papers do a great job with author profiles and reviews if you let them know in time.

  1. E-mail bookstores with your information (book, website, jacket quotes) and offer them short writing workshops for kids instead of just traditional readings. Follow up those e-mails with store visits or phone calls. Be upbeat and professional even when clerks are –and some will be- indifferent. You will find the ones who “get you”, and as for the ones who don’t, move on with grace. Try to focus on the independent bookstores because they are the ones who will hand-sell your book and may have a small sitting for you to interact with children.

  1. Set up writing workshops for children in schools, libraries, bookstores and other settings where you will have a guaranteed audience of children. Lead children in writing their own stories and poems. Make sure art supplies are on hand so the kids can illustrate their creations, and offer to publish any stories that they e-mail you in a special section of your blog or website. Have the bookstore require the purchase of one of your books in lieu of a workshop attendance fee. Talk to the parents and teachers who attend. Networking can lead to artist residencies at schools and more school visits. Keep writing workshops high-energy to encourage more participation. Get kids excited through sincere praise and encouragement, and then up on their feet to read their poems or stories. With older kids and teen groups, smaller circles work best.

  1. Consider having a reading/book signing at a place other than a bookstore. Go to a pizza parlour, a fast food restaurant with a children’s area, a tea house or some other nontraditional place. A friend’s backyard or your own can work. Independent booksellers love to sell local books, and you’ll be able to woo more friends into coming and bringing their friends. If you have children, your children can run around and celebrate too. Hire or sponsor an up-and-coming musician for the gig and let them give out their cards or CD’s.

  1. Do as many free writing workshops as you feel you can at first. Do them for foster children, children in juvenile hall, children who are differently-abled and children who don’t often have a chance to meet with writers. Publish their stories on your blog if they want you to do so.

  1. Pitch workshops or classes to your library, universities or a school near you. It’s free advertising for you, your book and your class. You also get to meet wonderful students in your workshop.

  1. Set up a six- or ten-week writing workshop at a local library for teens or adults who want to write children’s stories. You will be able to charge a fee, of course, and the bookstore will advertise the class and your book on its website and in its newsletter.

  1. Support other authors. Show up at their signings and readings and buy their books. Host them in interviews on your website or blog, or simply mention their books in a short review. We’re all in this together, and the more we can reach out and support each other, the more we’ll get back.

  1. Send your press release to your alma mater. Offer to meet with students from your old high school or college to talk to them about writing.

  1. Write an essay for your alumni magazine about writing for kids, or about how you became a writer. You’ll get readers; universities like to hear about their graduates and their adventures. If a rural library asks you to donate books, say yes. Say yes as much as you can. Just do it. If you can’t do it all the time, that’s okay, but say yes whenever possible.

  1. Write an essay/op. ed. piece for a newspaper with a large readership. This will get your name out to more readers.

  1. Record your book at your local Braille Institute and offer to do a workshop for its summer reading program. You’ll meet amazing kids who are budding storytellers.

  1. Go to events. Go to SCBWI events or book festivals on your own dime at least once if you have a book coming out. If they cannot offer you a signing during the festival, still go to meet people. You will make connections you cannot make online.

  1. Find a local chapter of the SCBWI and offer to do a workshop on setting, plot, voice or anything else.

  1. Write thank-you notes to everyone: librarians, teachers, booksellers. Be appreciative. Don’t whine. Say “thank you.”

  1. Get a GPS navigation device. It really helps out there on the road. Remember, the more you give of yourself as an author, the more you will connect with your readers at every level.

  1. Keep writing. The more books you market the easier it becomes. Press on. Give yourself a break and time to be alone to write and just be, so you can gather the stamina needed to get out there again.

Adapted from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators' (SCBWI) tips.



The SCBWI Caribbean South Chapter

The SCBWI, a non-profit organization, is one of the largest existing organizations for writers and illustrators. It is the only professional organization specifically for individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. Its mission is “to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world.”

We accomplish this by fostering a vibrant community of individuals who bring books for young readers to the public including writers, illustrators, translators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers, bloggers, enthusiasts and others. We provide education and support for these individuals and the community through our awards, grants, programs and events. We strive to increase the quality and quantity of children’s books in the marketplace, and act as a consolidated voice for writers and illustrators of children's books worldwide. Membership in the SCBWI is open to anyone with an active interest in literature for young people. We welcome aspiring and published writers and illustrators, librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, and others. A passion for children’s literature is our number one criterion.

There are two SCBWI regional chapters: Caribbean North and Caribbean South. Visit the website at www.scbwi.org for more information.



About the Author

Marsha Gomes Mckie is the Foundress of Caribbean Books Foundation, an online platform (www.caribbeanbooks.org) that connects the Caribbean community and diaspora through literature. She is the Regional Advisor for the Caribbean South Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international NGO devoted to supporting children’s book creators. She is a published author of a line of children books, Aunty Marsha Children’s Books, which she both writes and illustrates. She also writes romance and folklore fantasy fiction. She is an artist, public relations innovator and avid Caribbean book reviewer. She is a member of The Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago and Women in Art of Trinidad and Tobago.

Read More

Playground Tra-la-la



1. Hopscotch

Hopscotch, hopscotch,
up and down, from box to box.
Use a slipper and heave it high;
where it lands don’t step inside.
Hop over the slipper and then,
hop your way to the very end.
Should you finish each square that way,
you will have a winner’s pay.

2. Moral

Let us play some moral.
Inside some squares, bounce a ball.
Roll to the first and then inside,
bounce the ball that number of times.
Bounce your way to the very end
and then start all over again.
Should you complete each trip in style,
take a bow, you’re a winner, child!

3. Marbles

This is a verse filled with marbles,
dozens of balls as small as pebbles.
Draw a circle and that’s the ‘ring.’
Place some marbles and then begin.
Choose your ‘taw’, that’s your piece;
aim it at the marbles, don’t miss!
Pitch until the ring is clear.
If you collected the most, throw your hands in the air!

4. Pick-pick

This is a rhyme about pick-pick.
Gather some pebbles then take your pick!
Toss it in the air and before it lands,
grab as many as you can hold in your hand!
If the stone drops, it’s another’s turn;
if not keep going until the pebbles are done.
Once you are the person with the most stones,
Then guess what my friend? You won!



About the Author

Fidelia Fisher has loved reading and writing since her childhood and always dreamed of one day being a great writer. She is a primary school teacher and the author of the 2016 picturebook, Shaka the Nutmeg Seed, as well as some poetry and short stories. She has been recognized by the Grenada Union of Teachers for her writing. Her inspiration is her son, Kriston, and her love of literacy. She currently lives with her family in the quiet village of Pomme Rose, in the lovely spice isle of Grenada.

Read More

Pitch Match Madness







It was only one week before the great annual Pomme Rose Pitch Match began at the St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School and Sue-ki Thomas was staring out her classroom window chewing on a pencil, bursting with excitement. She could not wait to have fun playing marbles and eating coconut fudge and chip-chip with her friends.

But the most important part of the festival for Sue-ki was the Pitch Match Marble Madness contest. The overall winner got to take home this year’s trophy and one thousand dollars. Sue-ki gleefully shook her pocket filled with exactly twelve marbles, already knowing what she would do with the money: take a long, amazing trip around her home island of Grenada and visit Carriacou and Petit Martinique to see some of her relatives and friends. Oh, how thrilled she was to be able to participate for a chance to win!

Just then, Sue-ki saw her best friend, Jimbo, walking into the school yard. She smiled and waved wildly at him to get his attention.

“Aye Jimbo, wah go?” she said, giving him a high-five and thumbing her small nose.

“I dey cool,” Jimbo mirrored Sue-ki’s actions, then sat on her desk. He flung his book bag on an empty chair. “What’s de latest?”

“Ah get true nuh,” she shouted. “Ah get true wit de Pitch Match competition boy!”

Jimbo gave her double high-fives. “Woyyyeee! Dey yuh bad! We go mash dem up!”

“Yeah boy we go… wait, wait, WE?” Sue-ki paused with her hands in mid-air. “What yuh mean ‘we’?”

“Ah make it too gyal,” Jimbo smiled, although it took him a great deal of effort.

Sue-ki frowned, gave it some thought, then seemed to be okay with the idea of competing with - no against - her best friend.

“Ok boss, well good luck! That prize money is mine!” she grinned, rubbing her hands together. They both laughed.


***



That evening, Jimbo and Sue-ki walked along their usual path to go home, huge grins on their faces. Their pockets were jingling with new marbles which they had won in a long after-school game with a few of their friends.

“Yuh ent see de size of Marlon taw? Dat likkle ting wasn’t winnin’ nuttin!” Sue-ki boasted.

Jimbo laughed. “How he go win when yuh usin’ de gugurt to take all de marbles! Is like ah bomb drop every time!” They cackled gleefully.

 Jimbo was sweating a lot and Sue-ki asked him if he wanted to rest a while but he shook his head.

“Ah ent find yuh lookin’ too hot nuh Jim,” Sue-ki frowned.

“I good man, jus’ ah likkle cold ah ketchin. Maybe ah play too much marble too.”

Sue-ki chuckled. “Ah hear yuh.”

Sue-ki waved good-bye to Jimbo as he entered his house, then she continued on her way home. It was getting a little dark by the time she got there. Sue-ki’s mother was looking out the window with a serious expression on her face. Sue-ki’s steps slowed. She snuck around to the back and entered quietly through the kitchen. As she turned the corner towards the stairs, she walked straight into her mother. Sharon did not look pleased. She grabbed Sue-ki’s arm.

“What ah tell yuh about dis marble playing after school Susan?” The belt came down on her bottom. Sue-ki took her licks like a professional. She was used to coming home late and taking her punishment. Her mother was never upset for long anyway.

Later, after a supper of sardines and homemade bread with hot cocoa tea, Susan laid her collection of fifty-four marbles on her bed. Some were beat-up from months of hard work while others were glossy and smooth. But Sue-ki cherished the worn ones most. She picked up each one with thumb and forefinger and carefully inspected it. Only her best marbles would work for the competition. She carefully aimed the marble at her closet and fired. Pow! What an amazing sound! Sue-ki went to sleep with a smile on her face and the sound of her mother’s laughter from the kitchen.



***



Sue-ki went to school alone the next morning. Jimbo claimed he would be late as he had to tie out two more goats than usual. So she joined Mario and the others in the school yard to warm up. As the bell rang and she walked to class, Sue-ki couldn’t help but wonder where Jimbo was.

After school, Sue-ki dashed up the hill towards Jimbo’s house. As she walked into the yard, she saw Jimbo playing marbles with his little cousin Tiger. Sue-ki ran up to him.

“Aye, wah do yuh today boy? I dey lookin’ out fuh yuh in school.” Sue-ki dropped to the ground and watched Tiger take careful aim with her taw.

“Mammy say she din have money today to sen’ me.” Whack! Two marbles flew out of the ring. Sue-ki gave Tiger a high-five.

“Ok. Well we jus revise some Maths and Science ‘cause it have test tomorrow, yuh hear? I goin’ home early ‘cause Mammy done beat me ahready.” They gave each other a bounce and pinched their noses.



***



The rest of the week flew by and before long, the week of the match had arrived. As Sue-ki was leaving the house, her mother kissed her good-bye and wished her luck.

“Gee dem licks Susie!” She gave Sue-ki a squeeze.

Sue-ki met Jimbo at school. She had to remind herself that they were competing against each other today.

“Yuh ready Sue-ki?” he asked her.

“Yeah I ready man Jim.” The two friends shook hands solemnly. “May de best player win.”

A voice over the loudspeakers in front of the school suddenly boomed out: “Welcome to the annual Pomme Rose Pitch Match!”

Sue-ki whistled loudly as she clapped, along with the other competitors.  She was pleased to see that the marble contest drew the largest crowd.

The first round of competition began. Sue-ki was in a separate group from Jimbo, to her relief. As the game began, she kissed her lucky marble, Destroyer. Game on!

Sue-ki started with an impressive hit, knocking out three marbles. The others looked at each other worriedly as she took her next turn, hitting marble after marble. Each of the other players only managed to hit one marble out of the ring. Sue-ki made sure no one else had a chance. The whistle blew. She had won her match!

Sue-ki punched the air with glee. “Yeah man!”

A minute later, she heard three more whistles. More matches were won. As Sue-ki headed for Jimbo’s circle, a huge cheer went up from the crowd gathered there, then the whistle blew. Sue-ki hoped Jimbo wasn’t too disappointed. Big Mouth Mikey was in that match and he was really good. So it was to her complete surprise - and slight disappointment - that Jimbo was grinning, his fist filled with marbles. He ran up to Sue-ki and gave her a playful punch on the shoulder.

“Gyal ah knock out all dem marble nuh! Watch ting!” He shoved the marbles under her nose.

Sue-ki high-fived his other hand unenthusiastically. “Nice man.”

“How much marble yuh get?” But Sue-ki had already walked towards another crowd where the final match was drawing to an end.

The next round began. Sue-ki was still in a separate group from her best friend, and she was determined to get more marbles than Jimbo. When the match began, she went first, having done better than the others in the previous match. In no time, the marbles were all hers. Smirking, she looked hastily around for Jimbo to show him her winnings, expecting him to be a little intimidated. Much to her surprise and annoyance, he gave her a huge grin and high-fived her three times.

“Dey yuh bad! Take it to dem Sue-ki!”

Frowning, Sue-ki grumbled under her breath, “Wait ‘til is yuh an’ me….”

In the final round, Jimbo started complaining about feeling dizzy but he made it through. Now the two best friends had to face off against each other. The crowd was tense. This was the match-up everyone had been waiting for! Sue-ki rubbed her hands in glee. It was time.

The match began and Sue-ki got to go first. From her pocket, she drew the largest gugurt anyone had ever seen. The crowd gasped. The spectators began to whisper. Some placed bets, sure that Sue-ki would win. They were even more sure when Jimbo showed them his little glass orb with a blue tear-shaped center.

One by one, the marbles got kicked out of the ring by the giant. Bruised and some even broken, they lay in the dust awaiting the results. Sue-ki had won! Jimbo and the crowd cheered as she walked up onto the stage to collect her prizes. Finally! Now she could plan her trip. Sue-ki grinned from ear to ear as she heaved her trophy triumphantly into the air. She scanned the crowd looking for Jimbo and saw him standing near the back, clapping feebly. He was not looking too well. She decided to wait until the next day to gloat over beating him.

At home, Sue-ki’s mother stared proudly at the trophy sitting on her living room centre table as Sue-ki fanned herself with the cheque.

“Ah so proud, baby! Now if yuh do so well in maths, I might think about giving you a computer.”

Sue-ki screamed and hugged her mother. Wait until Jimbo heard about this!



***



The next day was Saturday so Sue-ki woke late. She lay in bed listening to the sound of a dove cooing, mingled with the screech of a siren as an ambulance sped by. Soon she got tired of staying inside, so she bathed and dressed, hurriedly ate a cheese sandwich and some cocoa tea and set out for Jimbo’s house to show him her cheque.

As Sue-ki entered Jimbo’s yard, she noticed Ms. Margaret sweeping the verandah. She waved and went to meet her.

“Mawnin’ Miss Maggie. How yuh? Ah come by Jimbo. He dey?”

Ms. Margaret paused. “Sorry dear. Ambulance went wit’ James to de health centre in Belle Vue not too long ago. He didn’t wake dis mawnin.”

Fear crept up Sue-ki’s spine. She turned and ran all the way to Belle Vue almost two miles away. When she got there, the ambulance was about to leave to go to the hospital in St. George’s. Jimbo’s mother was sitting in the back holding Jimbo’s limp hand and crying. When she saw Sue-ki, she hugged her.

“What happen to Jimbo Miss Merle?” Sue-ki cried.

Sue-ki learnt that her friend needed a kidney transplant. Ms. Merle wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “God only knows where we getting the money. Even with all my savings we don’t have enough─” She looked at Sue-Ki’s distraught face and stopped in mid-sentence. “But don’t worry chile, everything will work out.”

Without thinking twice, Sue-ki handed the cheque to Jimbo’s mother. “Here Miss Merle, you can have my prize money.”

Frowning, Jimbo’s mother began to protest. “Nuh Sue-ki, that is for your trip─”

“Me and Jim can go another time when he get well. Take it nuh.”

Jimbo’s mother stared at the cheque for a long moment then put it in her pocket. “Thank you so much Susan, bless you chile.”

They both hugged and cried, then Jimbo’s mother went with the ambulance. Sue-ki went home and told her mother everything that had happened.



***



A week after Jimbo’s surgery, the two friends were sitting in Sue-ki’s living room watching a local talk show, Chit-Chat with Lexann Fletcher.

Suddenly Jimbo yelped in excitement. “Look Suki! Yuh Mammy on the TV!”

Sue-ki leaned forward for a closer look as Jimbo turned up the volume. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was true. Her mother’s face appeared in the television screen.

“Well, I am very proud of my child,” Sue-Ki’s mother said to Lexann Fletcher. “Susan did something very selfless and thoughtful. She wanted to go on a trip very badly, so she worked hard to win the prize money at a school competition.  Then she found out her best friend was really sick and needed surgery. Susan gave all of her prize money to pay his hospital bill. She didn’t think twice.”

“What a wonderful thing to do!” Lexann Flecther exclaimed, flashing her shiny smile. “We are so inspired by your daughter’s act of kindness that we would like to reward her. We are going to take Susan and her friend James on an all-expenses-paid trip to Carriacou and Petit Martinique! But that’s not all.” Lexann Flecther paused dramatically. “Thanks to our sponsors at The Computer Store Limited, Susan will be getting a laptop computer too!”

Sue-Ki didn’t hear what Lexann Fletcher said after that. She was in shock. Jimbo screamed as he hugged her. “Yeah man! We go have ah time!”

A wide grin broke out on Sue-ki’s face, then she remembered something. “Jimbo, yuh sure yuh feeling well enough to go on the trip?”

‘Yeah man Sue-ki. I good man. Ent I beat yuh in de marble game yesterday? And that was a killer match too!”

Sue-ki laughed. It was true. Jimbo really did seem to be getting back to his normal self. She had to admit her friend was as good a marble player as herself.

The two friends laughed some more as they planned their trip, and talked about all the sparkling new marbles they would buy in the toy shop in Petit Martinique.



About the Author

Fidelia Fisher has loved reading and writing since her childhood and always dreamed of one day being a great writer. She is a primary school teacher and the author of the 2016 picturebook, Shaka the Nutmeg Seed, as well as some poetry and short stories. She has been recognized by the Grenada Union of Teachers for her writing. Her inspiration is her son, Kriston, and her love of literacy. She currently lives with her family in the quiet village of Pomme Rose, in the lovely spice isle of Grenada.

Read More

Bougainvillea Girl



Iguana by Merry Phillips

Flowers, get your bougainvillea flowers!
Fresh from me mammy garden!
Pink and orange, purple and white;
what a very lovely sight!
Me special Grenadian flower it is,
growing on me mammy bushes.
She backyard full up ah dese,
a special treat for de honey bees.
See how I nice with me bright pink flowers
blessed by de hot sun and July showers?
Make nice centrepiece for your tables and dem,
to put in your hat or give all you friends!
Bougainvilleas for you?











About the Author

Fidelia Fisher has loved reading and writing since her childhood and always dreamed of one day being a great writer. She is a primary school teacher and the author of the 2016 picturebook, Shaka the Nutmeg Seed, as well as some poetry and short stories. She has been recognized by the Grenada Union of Teachers for her writing. Her inspiration is her son, Kriston, and her love of literacy. She currently lives with her family in the quiet village of Pomme Rose, in the lovely spice isle of Grenada.


About the Illustrator

Merry Phillips has a B.A. in Fine Art from Capital University and an M.A. in Art History and Library Science from Kent State University. She taught art for three years to junior high school students in Nassau, Bahamas and for 27 years she taught art to both elementary and high school students in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and was also a high school and elementary school librarian. She taught watercolour and basic drawing at the University of the Virgin Islands. She owns a small Christmas Ornaments company in St. Thomas. Now retired, she is currently an aspiring children's book author.

Read More

[Featured Illustrators] Jeunanne Alkins





Jeunanne Alkins' first picturebook project, Ready. SET...HATCH!, merges art, storytelling, and environmental awareness. The book is both written and illustrated by Alkins, and was self-published through her design studio, ESPjr, in 2014. She markets the book toward toddlers but it's a story for all ages.

Hatch is a competitive little leatherback turtle. He and his tiny hatchling brothers and sisters are racing wildly to crack out of their eggs and be first to the sea. Crisis arises as the nearby river breaks its banks, flooding the nest. Narrated by Hatch, this charming story teaches the young turtles a lesson about teamwork - they discover that unless they work together, no one will get out of the crumbling mess!

All of the illustrations were digitally created using Adobe Illustrator. The muted palette of earthy tones centers the natural world and the minimalist imagery makes the turtle world larger-than-life. Alkins shared a bit about her process:

The illustration “Mummy arrived in the Caribbean” uses a turtle’s-eye-view angle to put toddlers in the driver’s seat as the majestic mother leatherback scans the beach. I remember the first time seeing the leatherbacks lay under the glow of the moonlight. It was slow at first but finally one emerged, climbing slowly up the steep beach. As we took our gaze off of her, they started coming out in droves. It was such a surreal experience and we felt like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park. I definitely recommend it for everyone’s bucket list.

In the “Scrambling towards the sea” illustration, readers get right into the action with the mass of turtles racing across the surface of the sand towards the sea. Anyone who has witnessed turtle hatchlings emerging from their nest can attest to the melee depicted in this scene.

With the turn of a page, the “Wait, wait, Nooooo” illustration turns up the drama from zero to one hundred. This is probably my favourite part of the book when I’m doing readings with little kids who are usually on the edge of their seats and wide-eyed. I can’t help feeling really grateful that I am able to hold their attention.  
Mummy arrived in the Caribbean

Scrambling towards the sea

Wait, wait, Nooooo

Thousands of miles


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

I enjoy the openness of Caribbean children’s illustration - from hand drawn, to collage, to digital, the types of lines, colour palettes, quirkiness and techniques – there are so many different approaches, but once done well, they work. I love that elements of the artist’s voice are reflected in the work.


Biography

Jeunanne Alkins is a creative director from Trinidad and Tobago. Her studio (Everything Slight Pepper) accolades include multiple design, ideation and entrepreneurial awards. She is also the author, illustrator and self-publisher of her debut title, Ready. SET...HATCH! Currently she is working with her team on a picturebook called The Most Magnificent which focuses on the built heritage of the Caribbean, and on an adventure-travel cartoon and comic series called Bim and Bam. She is passionate about edutainment and the difference design can make in how children learn.

View more of Jeunanne's work here:

http://www.jeunanne.com/




Read More

[Excerpt] Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero by Margarita Engle




Margarita Engle is well-known for her historical verse novels for young readers, all of which have garnered her numerous awards. In the wake of the recent US election, she penned a powerful personal essay citing the importance of bridging past and present as her motivation for writing about history. Her realistic fiction works have brought forgotten Cuban heroes like Juan Francisco Manzano and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga back from the margins of memory.

Now, Engle is adding fantasy to her oeuvre. Her forthcoming bilingual middle grade novel, Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero, is a historical fantasy about Cuban children at San Diego’s Raja Yoga Academy. In these pages, Engle shines a light on the much overlooked true story of the late-twentieth-century Lomaland Theosophical community which recruited uneducated Cuban children for its experimental school, including the "famous eleven" Cuban child detainees at Ellis Island. Engle, who was born and lives in the United States but spent childhood summers with relatives in Cuba, also draws on her childhood love of horses and folklore. Scheduled for January 2017, the book will be published by HBE Publishing, based in the author's hometown of Clovis, California and described by Engle as an "innovative small publisher." Here is the description from the book's jacket:
"When Mamacita chose to call me Estrellita, / it was her way of imagining a little bit / of starlight, deep down in that cavern / where only rare streaks of day or night / could reach--now, Lucero and I will be / Morning Star and Little Star, / a lit-from-within racing team!"

A young girl stricken with rickets and her mother face the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the challenges of a new century and innovative teachers. Dreams realized and dreams crushed exploring the freedoms only a magical horse can offer.

Award winning author Margarita Engle brings a tale of history mixed with a touch of fantasy.
Engle is an Anansesem advisory board member and we are thrilled to exclusively share this excerpt from the book's opening.

Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero

MARGARITA ENGLE | 10 MINS
© HBE Publishing 2017
Translated by Alexis Romany






About the Author

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her other verse novels have received the PEN USA Award, and multiple Pura Belpré and Américas Awards. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, is a Pura Belpré winner and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalist. Books for younger children include Drum Dream Girl, The Sky Painter and Mountain Dog. Her 2016 books are Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words, a young adult verse novel about Antonio Chuffat, a hero of the Chinese- African freedom struggle in 19th century Cuba (Atheneum), and Morning Star Horse/El Caballo Lucero, a bilingual, magic realistic middle grade historical verse novel (HBE Publishers). She lives in central California with her husband and his wilderness search and rescue dog.

Read More

[Excerpt] Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph




Back in August, Jamaican independent publisher Blue Banyan Books (formerly Blue Moon Publishing) released Dancing in the Rain, Américas Award winning Trinbagonian author Lynn Joseph's third young adult novel. Here is the publisher's description:
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.
We are pleased to exclusively share this never-before-published excerpt from the novel.

Dancing in the Rain

LYNN JOSEPH | 10 MINS
© Blue Moon Publishing/Blue
Banyan Books 2016




Brandt

in the beginning...

My mother says she knows exactly who loves her and can place them in numerical order as to how much they love her. On September 11, I have just started second grade and already I miss my first grade teacher, Ms. Simon, who never shouted, never banged her hand on a table and never made me cry - all acts of terror my new teacher, Ms. Feliciano, has committed in the first week of school.

Every day after school, Jared and I wait for Mommy to come home from work. On September 11, we go home early. Jared picks me up from my new classroom and holds my hand all the way home. Jared never holds my hand. Jared doesn’t talk to me at all. He doesn’t turn on the computer. He doesn’t let me turn on the television. He doesn’t do anything but lie on his bottom bunk bed and stare up at the top bunk. When I try to turn on the computer, he shouts at me, “Turn it off.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Mom might call,” is all he says.

Jared never cared about Mommy calling before. It is a constant fight they have. She complains that he’s always on the internet so she cannot get through on the telephone. She asks him to at least wait until she calls to see if we are alright and then he can go on the internet. Jared never listens.

“It’s important,” she tells him, her voice rising when he shrugs his shoulders at her. Her face gets red and she takes deep breaths and then goes to her bedroom and closes the door.

But on September 11, Jared doesn’t turn on the internet to check out his newest Neopet. I sit on the floor next to our bunk beds. I look at Jared and he turns away so I can’t see his face. Something weird is happening. At school, the teachers had been scurrying in the hallways and lining us up to leave a half-day early. Ms. Feliciano had been extra nice and had asked the class if any of us had parents who worked in or near the World Trade Center.

I raised my hand proudly because my mother worked right there. I said that she was a lawyer in a big company and I had visited the tall towers and ridden the elevator up those bridges to the sky many times. Then, I saw the look on Ms. Feliciano’s face. Why was she scrunching up her eyes and frowning? I said my mother worked there - wasn’t that the right answer? She came over and patted my head and then left the room. When she came back, Jared was with her. He’s in the eighth grade. He’s been diagnosed a genius and got to skip third grade. I wished I could skip second grade. But I haven’t been diagnosed anything as yet. Jared told me quietly to get my back pack and come on.

Now, here we are – waiting for something. At least, Jared is waiting for something, so I wait, too.

Except pretty soon, my stomach starts growling and I go into the kitchen to make a peanut butter and grapes sandwich. Jared doesn’t say a word when I smash the grapes between my bread. Usually, he says it’s gross. I say it’s the same thing as putting grape jelly on bread. I just skip the jelly part and go straight for the grapes. He says it’s a baby thing to do. I hate it when he calls me a baby. But I get him back. I tell him I am Mommy’s joy. That’s what she calls me, her joy.

But then Jared always snaps back, “You might be her joy, but I’m her heart.”

He’s right. Mommy calls Jared her ‘heart’ and she calls me her ‘joy’. I’m not sure which is better. Heart or Joy? I mean, you love with your heart, so she really loves Jared. But you’re happy if you feel joy so I make her happy. But not everything you love makes you happy. Sometimes, the person you love the most makes you the saddest. Life is funny and I have a lot to figure out and all this waiting for something to happen is making me hungry, so I eat.

 

 

Brandt

there is sadness...

 

Mommy does not know it, but Jared loves her best of all. I know because of him not going on the internet on September 11. Mommy cries and cries on the sofa as she listens to her cell phone messages, as if the messages starting at 8:48 a.m. that day sums up her entire life. But it’s the message she didn’t get that means the most.

Mommy doesn’t actually have her cell phone. She lost it on September 11. It disappeared like a lot of other things that day . . . people, buildings, and the stars I used to watch at night with Mommy when we took our walk to the park, which she won’t do anymore.

A week after September 11, Mommy figures out that she can check her cell phone messages from our regular home telephone. She calls the number for a phone that had been obliterated. I learned what ‘obliterated’ meant this week. It means completely destroyed. Like the Towers and Mommy’s cell phone.

Mommy listens to her messages over and over, and then she writes them all down, every word, filling up the blank spaces around her with information to stop her tears. It doesn’t work.

  1. Message received at 8:48 a.m. Her father calling from Sosúa. “Honey, please call me and tell me you’re okay. I’m looking at the News right now. A plane just crashed into your building. I remember when we went to the salsa concert under the stars there. Please call me and let me know you’re okay.”

I can hear the worry even in the written message.

  1. Message received at 8:50 a.m. Mommy’s work friend Alison calling from the office. “Izzy, where are you? We’ve got to get out of the office now. Meet me and Phil at the elevators. Now!”
  2. Message received at 8:53 a.m. Rudy calling from the office.

“Izzy, tell me you’re at Court and not here. Something horrible has happened. We can’t tell but they’re saying we should stay right where we are for now. I don’t think so. We’re leaving. We’re at the stairs by the Women’s bathroom. Meet us there.”

  1. Message received at 9:05 a.m. Mommy’s sister, Sonia, calling from the Republica Dominicana. “Isabella, I am praying for you. I am praying real hard. I know you are fine. I know it.” Auntie Sonia lives in Samana next to the beach and fishes every day. She stands upside down on her head to pray, which she calls meditating. I imagine her standing on her head praying for Mommy.
  2. Message received at 9:09 a.m. Rudy calling from the office. “Izzy, it’s me again. This is not an accident! We’re on the stairs. It’s jammed. We need to get out of here now. Where are you?”
  3. Message received at 9:16 a.m. Grand Pop calling again. “Isabella? Call me back.”
  4. Message received at 9:23 a.m. Mommy’s best friend, Alex. “Isabella, I’m in Philly at a deposition and just saw the News. Please call me and let me know you didn’t go to work today, or you’re having a late tea at the shop on Broadway or you’re in Court at trial . . . or something!”
  5. Message received at 9:37 a.m. Tony Hernandez calling from? “Princessa, I hope you’re okay. I’m worried about you. I know you’re still mad at me, but call me and let me know you’re okay.” Hmmmmm. Who was that? Mommy has secret friends who call her princessa?
  6. Message received at 9:41 a.m. Mr. Sola calling from where? “Isabella, I am asking everyone from the office to call in to my cell phone or home phone as soon as they get out of the building. There are just no words for this. Good luck.” Mommy’s boss. He doesn’t mind if I come into the office on Saturdays with Mommy to help her make copies and staple piles of papers together with Exhibit tabs. I feel something fierce and sad in his words.
  7. Message received at 9:45 a.m. Grand Pop calling back. “Isabella, call me as soon as you can. I am waiting.”
  8. Message received at 9:48 a.m. Daddy calling from the Brooklyn Bridge on his cell phone. “Izzy, call me and let me know where you are. I’m walking over the Bridge. I’ll go get the kids from school as soon as I get home.” Daddy never came to the school to get us. He did not make it to his home where he lives with his new wife until the sun was almost setting. He walked the entire way in his hard, black polished shoes and his feet hurt for a long time but he said that was nothing. Nothing at all.

There were many more messages. Messages with people crying. Messages with people sounding dazed and stuttering, and not making any sense. Messages from all the people who loved Mommy. She has a list. It is numbered and she holds it close to her.

Then, one day, Mommy turns with her eyes full of tears toward Jared and whispers, “Why didn’t you call me?”

Jared stares at her.

“Why didn’t you call me at work, or on my cell, or something? Were you too busy playing on the internet?”

Jared doesn’t answer her. He looks back at her and she looks at him and in between them shimmers a light that wavers up and down trying to catch them both in its rays but it can’t.

I watch them and I want to shout at Mommy that Jared loves her more than everyone on that list because he didn’t even turn on the computer that day. Or the television. Or anything. I want to tell her that Jared had laid on his bunk bed and closed his eyes and turned his face so that I couldn’t see he was crying.

That was the only day Jared hadn’t called me a baby when I made my peanut butter and grapes sandwich. It was the only day he held my hand. It was the day I knew that even though he talked back to Mommy, even though she threw up her hands and yelled at him, even though they seemed as if they were two panthers looking crossways at each other, deep down they loved each other more than anyone else. Jared was Mommy’s heart. But what Mommy didn’t know was that she was Jared’s, too.

And, in the days following September 11, I began to understand that your heart is never wrong. It is only your mind that gets confused. Your heart tells you much more than what your mind is thinking. But Mommy isn’t listening to her heart. She’s keeping lists and crying.




About the Author

Lynn Joseph is the author of ten books for children and young adults including the picturebooks An Island Christmas, Coconut Kind of Day, Jump Up Time: A Trinidad Carnival Story, Flowers in the Sky and Fly Bessie Fly. She has authored two collections of Trinbagonian folklore stories, A Wave in Her Pocket and The Mermaid’s Twin Sister which won the Américas Award for Children & YA Literature in 1994. Her young adult novel, The Color of My Words (HarperCollins, 2000), was named an ALA Notable Children's Book, an International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society, a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, and a Jane Addams Honor Book. It was also awarded the Américas Award for Children & YA Literature in 2000. Her MG/YA novel, Dancing in the Rain, was awarded Third Prize in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature 2015. It was named a Kirus Best Book of 2016. Lynn graduated with an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and teaches writing workshops to adults and teenagers.

Read More

[Book Review] Dancing in the Rain by John Lyons



John Lyons (Author), John Lyons (Illustrator)
Peepal Tree Press, 2015
Poetry collection, ages 9 and up



Dancing in the Rain, a collection of poems for children by John Lyons, moves readers through a plethora of sensory details and experiences associated with the world of the child. Through a thematic focus on the art of dancing, which is maintained throughout the entire collection, Lyons presents a series of childhood events and encounters with the Caribbean’s natural and supernatural worlds.

The culture, customs and landscape of Trinidad and Tobago are used as a frame to position the world of the child, but the world of the imagination, as captured through a creative display of sights, sounds, tastes and emotion, can be appreciated by children across the globe.

The poems are organized based on different aspects of Trinbagonian identity and culture, and celebrate and inscribe particular historical traditions and legacies of the Caribbean experience.

The poems can therefore be placed in various categories. There are poems about foods indigenous to Trinidad and/or the Caribbean like the Gru-Gru Bef, the mango, and the sour-tasting hog plum; poems featuring supernatural or mythical figures in Trinbagonian folklore; poems which zoom in on very simple childhood episodes; poems which celebrate the Trinbagonian landscape; poems about animals; and poems about popular cultural events in Trinidad and Tobago, such as Carnival.

By using these focal points, Lyons attempts to insert that which is usually overlooked, unappreciated or barely recognized. By centring these cultural aspects, Lyons offers Caribbean children a moment to experience and celebrate their identities and cultures. At the same time, the situations and emotional texture of each poem encourage the use of the imagination and zoom in on the universal experiences of children from multiple backgrounds. 

The symbolic use of the well-known Trinidadian Carnival, such as in the opening poem ‘Carnival Jumbie’ helps to convey freedom and happiness, and the child’s identity is affirmed through her participation in the event. Through this opening poem, Lyons provides the young reader with important historical details but lightens the burden of this history through the use of humour and the poem’s scintillating dance-invoking rhythm. For example, after evoking important symbols like the silk cotton tree (which invokes the memory of slavery), and the need to acknowledge ancestral spirits, the poem shifts to focus on the Jumbie anxiously anticipating jouvay and “steelban music to breakaway,”

The idea of freedom pervades the collection. In the poem ‘Carnival Dance Lesson’, the self-confident voice of the child persona, who insists that “you can dance like me”, demonstrates the empowerment the child receives through this cultural event in which all children can “have some fun”. Freedom is also effectively characterized by a carefree sense of play which allows the child to both witness and experience the Caribbean landscape, whether through the imagination or by being physically present in this space. The concept of play is strongly present throughout the collection. The poems not only capture the playful trait of the child, but also celebrate it as playing a major role in the child’s experience of freedom.

The very title, Dancing in the Rain, encapsulates the notion of freedom. One of the significant messages Lyons seems to be sending is the idea that the child’s experience of happiness is dependent on how free he is able to feel as he journeys through life. This freedom is largely represented through the childlike sensibility and sense of imagination which run throughout the poems. Rain, which is certainly not typical of Caribbean weather outside of particular rainy seasons, is usually used to signify some kind of sadness or tumult. The child’s perception of rain however, is somewhat different from the adult view of it, and Lyons artfully employs this perception as a kind of blueprint through which to see the world he has constructed. The child’s perspective provides an untainted perspective of the world and establishes an outlook which sees all things as possible.

In the book’s eponymous poem, ‘Dancing in the Rain’, it is the “warm rain” that causes the children to “squeal”, although the rain “stings”. The rain brings turbulence to the natural flow of life: the clothes have to be taken off the line, the “yard cocks” have to seek shelter and the “charcoal black” sky darkens the atmosphere. Yet, the children welcome the opportunity to “pull off [their] clothes” and dance in the rain. The idea of dancing in the rain is therefore a metaphor for finding enjoyment and using movement to produce joy, even in times when the “brightness” of the sun is not present.

Music offers a means of escape from stagnancy or rigidity, and the poems are suffused with a sense of the musical. Music is depicted as being a part of the poetic, but is also seen as an alternative mode of expression which encourages the act and art of dancing, and enables an intermingling of worlds. Melody allows for greater expression and breaks through barriers which words are unable to conquer. In the poem ‘Prankish Gnome’, for example, it is “the music of garden bird” which allows the child to envision the “gnome” in the garden “dancing happily among the stars.”

Lyons consistently presents two main conflicting forces: oppression and freedom. Through the juxtaposition of these two forces, the poet effectively pulls together varied layers of the child’s experience, and the diverse realities that have impacted or shaped the different worlds the child inhabits. At the start of the collection, Lyons establishes this image of freedom through the poem ‘Carnvial Jumbie’ which instantly pulls the reader into the musical world of Trinidad and Tobago’s calypso culture. This poem sets the tone for the collection because it introduces the idea that freedom occurs through movement, through action, and through dance. The calypso tune ─ “Jumbie jump high/Jumbie jump low/Jumbie jumpin to calypso...”─ is easily accessible to the reader through its rhythmic patterns. The alliterative phrases and the short-structured lines help to stimulate the interest of the young reader who finds herself quickly pulled into an irresistible melody.

Calypso, as a distinct musical form inherent in the structure of the poems, becomes a kind of language through which the child is able to communicate with all that is non-human, including ghosts and animals. Its presence helps to induce this sense of the fantastical in poems like ‘Woopsie’ and the ‘Agouti Story’, where the persona is able to connect with the animal and spirit worlds through the influence of the calypso. Literary sound devices such as assonance, onomatopoeia, and alliteration are used to maintain the rhythmic patterns in many of the poems. Various sounds associated with the Caribbean experience are also used to establish a sense of the musical. There are the animal sounds in poems such as ‘The Pig’s Boast’ and ‘Fowl Play’; sounds from the landscape that are created through the “tiptoe” movement “among dry bramble” in ‘Looking for Douennes’; or sounds associated with the imaginary, mythical world when the child persona hears the “nosily”, “rattling” bones of ‘The Climbing Skeleton.’

The motif of movement established in many of the poems is also deeply connected to the presentation of childhood experiences in the journey of the child. Through this motif, Lyons demonstrates the myriad ways in which dancing can be seen as moving: when “yuh…wine wid de riddum”; through the cut-loose movement of the fowl character in the animal, tale-based poem ‘Fowl Play’; through the “prancing” of the “prankish ghosts” in ‘Looking for Douennes’, and through the “candleflies moving about/lighting up and going out” in ‘Tadpole Comets’. Movement as dancing is also apparent in the personification of the willow and the wind in the poem ‘Natural Dancing Partners’ and even the beating heart of the child is described as dancing “wildly” in ‘Agouti Story.’

This motif of movement also appropriately reflects another common trait of the child, which presents itself both mentally and physically – children are always on the move. As is evident in the poem ‘Betty’s Breakfast’, where the child persona poses question after question to her mother regarding the chicken and egg cycle, the mind of the child is always racing with a sense of curiosity. Lyons captures this swift movement through his use of multiple rhythmic patterns. He shifts back and forth between a range of poetic forms, including the couplet, the triplet and the tercet, providing a lively set of rhythmic beats which imitate the fast-paced, fun-loving, adventurous nature of the child. Lyons honours this and other characteristics of childhood by using them as the nucleus for the situations presented.

The poems in Dancing in the Rain seem to be constructed through a set of ideas which centre on three main themes: continuity, sustainability, and inclusivity. A sense of continuity shines through in those poems that have an overt traditional or historical focus, which allows the reader to learn about Trinbagonian and/or Caribbean culture. The child is positioned as the agent of preservation. It is often the child persona, therefore, who not only introduces the various folkloric aspects and legacies of the culture, but who also helps to sustain them through the use of her imagination and his untainted mindset. Children are open to that which is different and that which might not be considered normal, therefore, they are more willing than adults to embrace and pass on the sense of identity presented in the “strange stor[ies]” and “strange music” being offered through the poems.

The idea of sustainability is invoked through the art form of storytelling which the child or animal persona in each poem uses to create and reinforce a sense of identity for both the individual and community. Finally, inclusivity is underlined through the poems’ focus on various forms of existence, including the human, animal and spirit worlds; elements of the physical landscape; and the folkloric presence in Caribbean culture. Continuity, sustainability and inclusivity become outcomes of childlike freedom, and interestingly enough, each of these factors also helps to preserve the freedom of the child and subsequently, the society.

Shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Award (CLiPPA), this new collection of poems by John Lyons will certainly allow children to discover and affirm their personal and cultural identities as they learn to ‘dance in the rain.’


About the Author

Dr. Aisha Spencer is a lecturer in Language and Literature Education in the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in Kingston, Jamaica. She has lectured in the area of children’s literature, is a Caribbean children’s literature advisor for Lantana Publishing, has worked closely with Caribbean children’s authors over the years and has written articles and reviews on Caribbean children’s texts. She has been teaching language and literature for over eighteen years and is especially passionate about finding innovative material and pedagogy to help children and youth better connect with and enjoy all genres of literature. Her current research projects focus on analysing and evaluating children’s responses to literature in both elementary and secondary institutions across the Caribbean.

Read More

Interviews