Showing posts with label Nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nonfiction. Show all posts

Picturebook Love: 5 Caribbean Children's Authors on Helping Kids Choose Love Through Stories

For our September special Love issue, we reached out to a few of the Caribbean's noteworthy children's authors, some of whom are also children's book illustrators, to ask them about the message of love in their picturebooks. Here's what they had to say:

1. Joanne C. Hillhouse

Love wasn’t what was in my heart when I started writing With Grace. I was feeling beaten up by an encounter and confused as to why the encounter had gone sideways – even after reaching out to try to understand. It was this bad mojo and mixed-up-ness that had me picking up my pen because, so often, I’m trying to process and understand things when I write. Swirling in my mind, apart from the particulars of the situation, was the way it touched on issues of class and position…and what would become the central theme of the book, grace. In the book, a girl who has nothing approaches a woman who has an orchard of fruit trees for permission to pick something to eat; the woman directs her to the stingiest mango tree she has, expecting it to yield nothing. But she underestimates the girl and the persistence of hard work, music, and love.

Grace, in the context of With Grace, is the quality of being kind and generous not because of who the person is but, in spite of the person being nothing to you at all...just because. I’m as imperfect as the next person – and I have my days – but I do believe in trying (trying, though we fall short) to be carriers of grace, doing unto others as we would like done to us; not saying things pitched to hurt, not glorying in another’s misfortune, not being bad-minded… just because.

So, in trying to get to a better place after my encounter, I wrote about a girl not looking for handouts but a hand, and about a woman who, out of selfishness and better-than-ness, couldn’t find it in herself to be gracious. Yes, there may have been some projecting. I didn’t know it was going to be a fairytale but when the tree and its faerie responded to the girl’s tending, I went with it. My mother is a gardener so perhaps I took some inspiration from how she gets even the most reluctant plants to grow in unforgiving soil.

In the end, I believe writing this story helped me shoo some negative energy (creative expression is nothing if not cathartic) and reminded me of the power of love (and the pen) as a curative for (and a shield against) bad mind, bad energy, and bad soil.

About Joanne C. Hillhouse []
Joanne C. Hillhouse is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. She writes in different genres and has authored six books, two of which are children's picturebooks. For more, visit

2. Anika Denise

While reviewing the first round of sketches for Starring Carmen!, my picturebook about a one-girl sensación who loves to perform, my editor and I remarked on how perfectly Lorena Alvarez Gómez, our brilliant illustrator, had captured Eduardo—Carmen’s hermanito.

“He’s pure love,” we agreed.

And he is. Despite his big sister’s tendency to want to run the show, he adores her in that singularly precious way little ones look up to their older siblings.

Eduardo is based on my real life hermanito, Brandon. He’s all grown up now and towers over me. But when I look at him, I still see the sweet five-year-old boy with saucers for brown eyes and deep dimples, the boy who loved me and was always happy to see me, even when—because of our age difference—I was more interested in school and friends and boys, than Play-Doh and Pokémon.

Carmen may be the star of the book, but it was in writing the character of Eduardo that I came to the heart of the story. It’s about the unconditional love that exists in families. "La sangre llama, my Títi Rosie likes to say. Blood calls. It calls to Eduardo to forgive his sister, even when she makes him play a rock or a lamp in her elaborate living room stage productions. It calls to Carmen, and shows her that her pesky hermanito is actually her biggest fan. And it calls to Carmen’s parents, who handle her more theatrical moments with patience and humor.

It’s the call of our hearts—to the people who celebrate us for who we are, love us despite our flaws, and can be “the rock” when we need it most.

About Anika Denise []
Anika Denise is a Puerto Rican children's author based in Rhode Island, USA. She is the author of the picturebooks Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and the forthcoming Pura Belpré, Planting Stories, a biography of pioneering Puerto Rican librarian, author and storyteller Pura Belpré. You can visit her online at

3. Matt Tavares

When I set out to write about Pedro Martinez, I didn’t think it was going to be a book about brotherhood, or about love. But once I got going, I realized that it was impossible to tell Pedro’s story without telling the story of his brother, Ramon. And maybe that is the message of love in Growing Up Pedro: all of our stories are intertwined, and it’s impossible to tell one person’s story without also telling the stories of their loved ones.

My original outline focused more on Pedro overcoming obstacles, like the poverty of his childhood and the fact that everyone thought he was too small to make it in the major leagues. But eventually the theme of brotherhood emerged.

Reading through Pedro’s interviews, I found so many quotes where Pedro said that everything he learned, both in baseball and in life, he learned from Ramon. When Pedro was young, Ramon was his idol. Pedro’s goal in life was not just to make it to the major leagues, but to make it to play in the major leagues with his big brother.

When Ramon struggled adjusting to life in the United States as a minor league baseball player, he made sure his little brother Pedro started studying English right away, so he would be ready. And when Pedro had reached the pinnacle of his profession and Ramon suffered a major shoulder injury, it was Pedro who offered encouragement, helping Ramon work his way back to the major leagues.

Pedro Martinez will be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. But he did not do it alone. His big brother, Ramon, was there every step of the way. And together, they helped each other rise above their circumstances and live their shared dream of playing major league baseball.

About Matt Tavares []
Matt Tavares was born in Boston, and grew up surrounded by books and reading. Matt's first published picturebook, Zachary's Ball, won a Massachusetts Book Award Honor, and was named one of Yankee Magazine's “40 Classic New England Children's Books.” Since then, Matt has published eighteen more books and won several awards, including three Parents' Choice Gold Awards, an Orbis Pictus Honor, and two ALA Notable books. His artwork has been exhibited at the Museum of American Illustration, the Brandywine River Museum, and the Mazza Museum of PictureBook Art.

When Matt's not working in his studio on his latest book project, he travels the country speaking (and drawing) at schools, libraries, conferences and bookstores. He has presented at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Eric Carle Museum, the White House Easter Egg Roll, and he's even done a few book signings at Fenway Park. Matt lives in Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their two daughters.

4. Olive Senior

Boo-noo-noo-nous Hair is about a little girl learning to love her Black hair and, in the process, learning to love herself. She starts off hating her hair, as many Black kids do, and asks why she can’t have hair like her schoolmates who have hair that

long or short
. . . can swish as they wish.

Her wise and loving mother assures her that she has the best hair of all because it can do so many things that straight hair can’t do. The child is mesmerized by the long list of possible hairstyles and we witness her growing self-esteem. “Really?” she says and immediately conjures up a different style for every day of the week, every month of the year, starting with:

- Puffs on Monday
- Plaits on Tuesday
- Braids on Wednesday
- Cornrows Thursday
- Twist out Friday?

Her positive feelings are reinforced by big sister as a model of someone who has already gone through the process

With her electric, kinetic,
Bombastic, fantastic
Twirly, whirly, curly, fuzzy, snappy, nappy,
Wavy, crazy

My story is absolutely about love: a mother’s love for her child and her gracious way of healing the wounds of inferiority imposed by racial difference or images of “beauty” that don’t reflect who we are. Like all stories, it teaches by example – a good way to get a message across.

The onomatopoeic Jamaican word "boonoonoonous" is evocative of everything beautiful and sweet. It was once widely used to express admiration of everything from a girl’s sexy walk to a pretty baby, in a time before mass media and European models became the norm. The word is hardly used today, but I revived it because I thought children everywhere would enjoy its delicious sound – challenging but easily pronounced if broken into syllables.

About Olive Senior [Click here to read bio.−]
Olive Senior is the prizewinning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her picturebooks include Birthday Suit, Anna Carries Water and Boo-noo-noo-nous Hair (forthcoming). Anna Carries Water was nominated for the 2014 Rainforest of Reading Award, shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize 2014 (Young Reader’s Award), listed by Kirkus Reviews as “one of the best books of 2014”, selected as one of School’s Library Journal’s “100 Magnificent Children’s Books (ages 2-16) and New York Public Library’s “100 Tales for Reading and Sharing,” and won the Isabel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award.

5. Lulu Delacre

Love is the invisible current that connects us. It knows no boundaries, traveling through space and time. An unbreakable bond between child and parent, it transcends culture and religion, ethnicity and race. It is felt in all corners of the world. Not even death can break it.

I’ve always loved both my daughters; my love goes deep and far. But it wasn’t until my youngest daughter died, that I realized that I love her as much in death as I did in life. For me, this means that she still is. And as I struggled to describe this permanent and invisible bond I remembered a game we used to play when my girls were young. “¿Hasta dónde me amas? How far do you love me?,” either of them would ask. Back then, the game took us to the park, to the beach, to the school or all the way to the moon and sky. Each time we would try to outdo one another with words sprinkled with kisses and giggles.

I believe that the expansiveness of parental love is echoed in the many breathtaking places the earth has given us. With a simple question How Far Do You Love Me?, takes the reader on a journey through the 7 continents. It enables young readers to witness that this love is identical everywhere; it reaches far and deep. As the child flips to the last spread of the book, she finds the question posed in 23 different languages. In this way, I entice the young reader and her parent to embark on their own imaginary journey in the language of their choice. And I hope that in doing so, they’ll give voice to the permanent bond that not even death can erase.

About Lulu Delacre []
Three-time Pura Belpré Award honoree Lulu Delacre has been writing and illustrating children's books since 1980. Born and raised in Puerto Rico to Argentinean parents, Delacre's Latino heritage and her life experiences inform her work. Her 38 titles for children include Arroz con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America, a Horn Book Fanfare Book in print for over 25 years, and Salsa Stories, an IRA Outstanding International Book. Her bilingual picture book ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Descubriendo el bosque nublado/Olinguito, from A to Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest has received 20 awards and honors including an NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor and an ALA Notable for All Ages. Her most recent title, starred twice, is Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos.

She has lectured internationally and served as a juror for the National Book Awards. She has exhibited at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, The Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York, the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Ponce in Puerto Rico among other venues. More at

Read More

[Guest Post] No Blue, No Green: Reflections on Gone to Drift

Teaching young people about the important issues of our time benefits their development, and helps shape their passion for social justice later in life. Social justice, whether it be environmental, political, gender oriented, or economic is a crucial subject to discuss with children if we want them to grow up to be compassionate global citizens. This is the second essay in a new author series in which we're publishing guest posts by children's and YA authors who've written books with social justice themes. Today, May 22nd, is International Day for Biological Diversity and it's also United States National Maritime Day, making it the perfect day to share Diana's reflection centered on her debut YA novel Gone to Drift. Diana is an environmentalist by training and while the book isn't only about environmental justice, it does deal with issues surrounding the environment, marine conservation and pollution. Without further ado, we welcome Diana to the site!


I was born in Kingston and Kingston Harbour has always been my front yard. My parents and paternal grandparents were recreational fishers, so I grew up with the sea. My mother told me I went to sea before I was three months old; my protagonist in Gone to Drift, Lloydie, does this too. As a teenager, I read books about going to sea by Hemingway, Monserrat, Defoe, Melville─ novels of exploration, war, shipwrecks and castaways. The sea meant adventure, escape, freedom, drama.

My relationship with the sea was never one of risk, however, and I never had to eke a living from the sea. As a child, I saw fishers in their open boats, in calm seas and rough ones, day and night, and I admired their skills and their bravery. I learned to fish myself and later, to snorkel and much later, scuba-dive.

And as I grew older, I realized that the sea I loved was dying─ beaches were strewn with garbage, reefs were covered with algae and Jamaica’s waters were heavily overfished. I became an environmentalist in 1990 on the day I stood on the Palisadoes strip─ the sandy spit that forms Kingston Harbour ─and saw it had become a garbage dump. That same year, I visited the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant, which then had not worked in 15 years. Raw sewage bubbled up out of the pipes and flowed across the land into the sea. In what universe, I asked myself, is this okay?

I knew nothing about the environment but I started reading and the more I read, the more concerned I became. As an islander, I focused on the sea. I learned that all life came from the sea and all life on earth still depends on the sea. As pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle famously said: “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” The ocean covers almost three-quarters of the planet and gives us the air we breathe and the water we drink. About half the earth’s people live in the coastal zone and rely on the sea for food and livelihoods. Here in the Caribbean, we live on islands in close relationship with the sea.

I thought my task was a simple one─ I just had to tell people the ocean was under threat, and once they knew, they would act. Of course that was naïve. As the years went by, I began to see that while facts about the state of the sea are important, it is more important to touch people’s hearts. And the best way to do that is through stories.

I have interacted with countless fishers through my environmental work and it seems there are two kinds─ men (yes they are mostly men) who know and love the sea and do not intend to do harm, and men who do not care, who perhaps cannot afford to care. I have seen that a whole way of life is dying in the Caribbean─ the fishing markets and villages, beaches, and the sea itself.  New types of livelihoods have emerged─ some legal, many illegal. My environmental work has also brought me into contact with the captive dolphin industry. I visited one of the dolphin facilities here in Jamaica and I watched those extraordinary marine athletes─ the dolphins ─perform tricks for thoughtless people. Again I thought: in what universe is this okay? I wanted to write a story about this clash between the old ways of fishing and new ways of exploiting the sea. I imagined an old-time fisherman in conflict with a modern fisher and a boy standing between them.

Stories often start with a “what if?” question. Mine was: what if the old-time fisher and the modern fisher were father and son? What if they were in conflict about the capture of dolphins for the tourist trade? And then one night as I was falling asleep, an image came to me of a boy sitting on a wall at night in the rain, staring out to sea. He was waiting for someone. Whom was he waiting for? It had to be someone lost at sea. Why was this person lost at sea? The story of Lloydie’s search for Ma’as Conrad began to unfold in my mind.

Jamaican coast guard patrol vessel. Photo: Mark Matta.

I decided to set the book in Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast, because dolphins still visit the fishing villages there and also because it is a departure point for fishers leaving for the Pedro Bank and Cays. What if something happened to Ma’as Conrad on the Pedro Bank? Was there somewhere he could be stranded and survive? I spoke to people who worked on the Pedro Bank and learned about Portland Rock, the northern-most of the Pedro Cays group. How could Lloydie get to the Pedro Bank? I knew the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard went to the Pedro Cays once a week. Could my young protagonist stowaway on a Coast Guard boat? I had no idea. I asked if I could see one of the boats and somewhat to my surprise, the Commander said yes. I stood on the dock, toured the ship and figured out how Lloydie could climb aboard. I had all the major elements of my story.

Although we Caribbean people live on islands, many of us are not really “island people.” We don’t swim, we don’t go to sea, and we’re scared of the sea which brings us storms and holds our tragic history. This may be particularly true for the upcoming generation. I wanted to write a story to introduce readers of all kinds, but especially young readers, to the skill and trade of fishing. My story pays tribute to the old-time fishers who respected and loved the sea, and to seagoing people everywhere. It is also a story about what we’re losing, about the increasingly empty sea that now surrounds us. My hope is that the characters in Gone to Drift have revealed what is at stake through their struggles.

About the Author

Diana McCaulay is an award-winning Jamaican writer and environmental activist. She has written three novels for adults, White Liver Gal, Huracan and Dog-Heart. Gone to Drift, her first young adult novel, placed second in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and won the Vic Reid Award for Young Adult Literature at Jamaica’s national Lignum Vitae Awards in 2016. Both Dog-Heart and Huracan were shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize for International Writing. She won the Hollick Arvon Prize for Caribbean writing in 2014, for her non fiction work-in-progress Loving Jamaica: a Memoir of Place and (Not) Belonging. Diana’s short fiction has appeared in Granta, Eleven Eleven, Fleeting Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, Afro-Beat, Lifestyle Magazine and the Jamaica Observer. She was the Caribbean regional winner for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story prize in 2012 for her story "The Dolphin Catcher." You can find her online at

Read More

[Guest Post] Finding Martí in the Hudson Valley: Building Bridges for Children

Teaching young people about the important issues of our time benefits their development, and helps shape their passion for social justice later in life. Social justice, whether it be environmental, political, gender oriented, or economic is a crucial subject to discuss with children if we want them to grow up to be compassionate global citizens. This is the first essay in a new author series in which we will publish guest posts by children's and YA authors who've written books with social justice themes. Today, on the 122nd anniversary of the death of the great Cuban poet, revolutionary and independence hero José Martí and the eve of Cuba's Independence Day, Emma Otheguy has given us permission to publish an original reflection centered on her debut picturebook Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad. Without further ado, we welcome Emma to the site!


I first knew José Martí not as a political hero, but as a storyteller, and as a link to my parents’ homeland. My mother liked to read to my siblings and I from La edad de oro, the children’s magazine that Martí published in New York City in 1889. Our favorite story was Los zapaticos de rosa, and my mom read it to us again and again, along with other Latin American stories, such as Rubén Darío’s Margarita. In my memory, the father in Los zapaticos de rosa and the king in Margarita have the same voice: my mother’s, deep and strong.

Our edition of La edad de oro was a heavy tome with Martí’s portrait rendered in bold primary colors on the cover. Above the shelf where the book lived, there was a picture of my grandfather. Martí and my grandfather were both small and slight, and both had big moustaches. As a very young child I would confuse the two of them, sometimes surprised when the big book resurfaced after months beneath a pile of toys to find the red-and-yellow Martí portrait and not my grandfather staring back at me. Of course, these two Cuban men lived nearly a half-century apart, but it is no coincidence that Martí is so intimately entwined with my sense of family and home: my mother’s voice, my grandfather’s moustache, childhood books and toys. Like my family and so many other Cuban-Americans, Martí loved Cuba but made a home anew in the United States. This knowledge, that Martí belonged to both my parents’ homeland and my own, is something that I've carried with me always.

Years later, I rediscovered the connections between José Martí, the United States and Latin America when I was working in the Hudson Valley. A relative in Cuba had given me a copy of Versos sencillos, Martí’s most famous work of poetry. While upstate, I’d been savoring the familiar words, those drawn from the song “Guantanamera,” and unpacking the stanzas that were new to me, whose words and images challenged me or forced me to consult a dictionary. I thought that this exercise was entirely separate from the Hudson Valley, from its people and landscape. But just when I felt most isolated from Latino culture, I discovered another connection to José Martí: Versos sencillos had been written in New York’s Catskill Mountains, in a little town just across the river from where I was. On doctor’s orders, Martí had visited the Catskills after an illness, where he was inspired to write his best-known poetry. I’d gone to a place that felt far from my culture and my family only to discover the wellspring of the well-known words:

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

It would be a few years after that before I began writing the picture book Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad, and even longer still before it was acquired by Jessica Echeverria at Lee & Low Books, brilliantly translated by Adriana Dominguez and richly illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. In the process of telling Martí’s story for children, I had to re-acquaint myself with Martí through research, by reading the latest academic scholarship as well as Martí’s articles and letters. But the compass and core of this story are what I’ve always known about Martí.

I knew from La edad de oro that the toughest themes can also be laced with magic and music. Los zapaticos de rosa is a story about poverty, but it is lovely in its rhythm and imagery. Its themes are challenging, but even the youngest child can access its simple language. I could never attempt to imitate Martí, but I know he would have wanted his biography to be told with similar bravery. He would have wanted it to include struggles and thorns without sacrificing beauty.

Martí’s Song for Freedom tells the story of Martí the political hero, of his fierce resolve to free Cuba from colonial oppression, but it is also a story about his love for nature and the poetry that flowed from his pen. Most of all, it is a story about connections, and about how a man who loved Cuba so much found inspiration in New York State. The American children’s author Kate DiCamillo has spoken about books making us more capacious of heart, capable of holding more joy and sorrow. [1] I think that Martí was capacious of heart as he held Cuba inside him even while allowing himself to be inspired by New York.I am awed by the many children in our country who, like Martí, hold two homelands in one heart. I hope that Martí’s story will bring us all courage.

Beatriz Vidal's illustrations from Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad,

The scholar Ángel Esteban wrote that Martí didn’t distinguish between “theory and praxis, a poem and a gunshot, a meeting of diplomats or a story for children.” [2] Martí didn’t distinguish, instead he built bridges and tied knots, forging connections everywhere he went. Like my family and like so many Americans, he lived a life that laced together the United States and Latin America, fully capable of fighting oppression while embracing the beauty of nature and literature.


MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM hits shelves July 17, 2017. Emma is sending bilingual activity packets as well as signed bookplates and stickers to those who pre-order the book. To get yours, pre-order from any retailer and fill out this form. Happy reading!


[1] Kate DiCamillo. Flora & Ulysses: Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech. American Library Association Annual Conference, 2014.

[2] Ángel Esteban. Introduction. Cuentos completos: La edad de oro y otros relatos. By José Martí. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1995. ix-xliii.

About the Author

Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, and her short story “Fairies in Town” was awarded a Magazine Merit Honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Otheguy lives with her husband in New York City. Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad is her picture book debut. You can find her online at

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 for more information.

About the Author

Marsha Gomes Mckie is the Foundress of Caribbean Books Foundation, an online platform ( 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

Jamaica's Children's Writers Circle (1983-2006): A Retrospective

CWC members, clockwise from left top: 1. Lorrise DaCosta 2. Hazel Campbell 3. Jean Forbes 4. Diane Browne 5. Pat Persaud

Formed by a group of Jamaicans in 1983, the Children's Writer's Circle (CWC) set a blueprint for what community-based children's publishing looks like and can achieve. In the 80s and 90s, their members, mostly women, spearheaded many important initiatives that advanced the enterprise of Jamaican and regional children's literature. We are honoured to share this never-before-published missive from the CWC archives with a current afterword by founding member and long-time children’s book activist Diane Browne.


The Children's Writers Circle: How It All Began

Lorrise DaCosta, Chairman of the Children's Writers Circle

May 2006

More than 20 years ago a journalist, Billy Hall, and a creative preschool teacher, Pat Persaud, got together, collaborated with each other, and became co-founders of The Children's Writers Circle. They encouraged their friends, and others who had a passion for literature to join the group. Those of us whom they recruited caught their vision and, armed with dreams and limitless imaginations, were ushered into the world of writing.

This was the first chapter in the story of The Children's Writers Circle. The story with all its ups and downs, still continues today. If we had any concept then of how difficult the world of writing would have been, we probably would have declined the invitation and not become involved at all. But, we would have missed the joys and the satisfaction of writing for children.

With limited resources, armed only with a dream, a name, imagination, and a great deal of enthusiasm, we officially launched The Children's Writers Circle in 1983 at a seminar which focused on the writing of stories for Jamaican children. 

The founding members then were Pat Persaud, Billy Hall, Diane Browne, Michael Record, Lorrise DaCosta, Jean Forbes, Pauline Bain, Berna McIntosh and Eda Jackson. Other members who joined later include Jerrie Isaacs, Rutty Mitchell and Hazel Campbell.

Each of us, we later discovered, had a unique writing style, a style which reflected our singular assortment of experience and insight, but a style which nevertheless required refining and grooming. We endeavored to nurture each others ' novel style, studying the components of memorable literature for children, and integrating an understanding of those components into our own writing.

Our editors, Michael Record, Diane Browne and Jean Forbes, never allowed us to forget that embodied in the objectives of The Children's Writers Circle is the word “excellence.” So when anyone wrote scripts that seemed like cardboard, cut out and pasted on a background, instead of a real environment where believable people lived, laughed, cried, struggled, and achieved, we were sent back, again and again, to improve our craft.

Objectives of the Children's Writers Circle

The concern which underlay the decision to form the Circle was a perceived need to produce in Jamaica, literary materials, relevant to Jamaican children under twelve years of age. Our mission was stated as “facilitating the art of reading among Jamaican children and encouraging the development of creative expressions by promoting writing skills.” 

I have used the word “relevant.” I hope that you will allow me to spend a few moments clarifying exactly what “relevant” should and should not mean. We in the Circle are fully aware that the term “relevant” has, in recent years, acquired socio-political connotations when used in the context of children's writing. Too often, in the English-speaking world, relevance has been the inspiration for materials aimed consciously at the concerns of children— often, specifically, working class and deprived children— as these concerns were understood by middle-class professors of social consciousness.

In other words, so-called “relevant” material has been conceived in a spirit of patronage and written by those “above” for those “below”, whom, the authors believed, could not possibly be expected to understand anything outside the range of their own limited experience, or to appreciate any language richer or more subtle than those they were likely to encounter in their daily lives. An unmixed diet of such material would, I suggest, result in the cultural and linguistic impoverishment of the child exposed to it. 

Fantasy has long been the central ingredient of some of the best loved writings for children. I believe that each one of us would be the poorer had we not read in our formative years stories such as Grimm’s fairy tales, Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, the Alice books, and I could go on. No one could say that a child should not be exposed to these great works because they are not relevant to the cultural surroundings in which that child has the fortune or — misfortune  — to be born. We are agreed however, that as part of the English-speaking family, materially deprived children can benefit richly from such works, not only as a means of escape from everyday reality, but because of the introduction that these books afford to great ideas and great language. They are a training of the mind. 

Our Creole is at best a very sinewy and vigorous language with many of the same qualities as the English of the King James Bible. If we are agreed, however, that Jamaican children should be brought up as part of the English-speaking family, we should recognize the special difficulties— and opportunities— arising from the influences of Creole. We have tried, in the material that we write for our children, to take into account their culture and heritage, which should nevertheless prepare them for their place in the English-speaking world, while still celebrating their Jamaican culture and heritage. 

One of our major concerns is the production of good local material which our children will not only enjoy, but with which they can also identify. If it is good, the over-twelves will enjoy it as well. It is with these considerations in mind, therefore, that the Circle was constituted:

  • To bring together Jamaicans who are serious about writing for children
  • To focus attention on the dearth of materials suitable for the under-twelve age group
  • To ensure that the materials prepared are of a high literary standard
  • To make a social contribution by focusing attention on issues of morality and Christian values

Through all our trials and frustrations we have tried to hold fast to these ideals.


What has the Children's Writers Circle achieved over the years, since we came into existence? You may very well ask. To date, we have published twelve books, hosted numerous seminars on writing for children and earned many medals and certificates of merit for writing short stories from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, although many of these are yet to be published. Individually, we have also earned many medals. 

Getting our stories published has been the Circle's greatest challenge. We have adopted many creative and innovative strategies to enhance the publishing of our materials. What continues to be a challenge is the need to find ways of marketing, exposing, and making our books accessible and available to the children who need them the most. We have employed creative strategies such as:

  • Hosting Authors Day at preparatory schools
  • Conducting children's reading corners in leading bookstores
  • Participating in book fairs
  • Soliciting service clubs and financial institutions to underwrite the cost of our books, as gifts to libraries and prep school libraries, as well as to children who need books but are unable to afford them
  • Co-financing the cost of publication, although many of these stories are yet to be published.

In closing, I share with you some factors that make us proud to be Circle members. We did some things that hadn't been done before. A group of inexperienced writers, mainly women, and many unheard of before, have created an opportunity to contribute to our society. We have managed to stay together to sustain our vision, our creativity and our passion for writing stories for children. Our mandate will always be writing for children. Now more than ever, our society needs our efforts in writing creatively to enlighten, to educate and to entertain our children.

We need to write for children, but we also need to pray for those children who live in an X- rated world. Who are born in places where we wouldn't be caught dead. Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wires. Who watch their parents die. Whose monsters are real. Whose nightmares come in the daytime. Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep. Who will grab the hand of anyone kind enough to offer it. Who never get a second chance. Who live and move, but have no being. And also, for those we smother.


This speech was delivered by the then President, Lorrise DaCosta, at the last public event held by the CWC. The guest speaker was Jean D’Costa whose book Jenny and the General (Carlong Publishers) was launched at that function. We tried to keep the CWC going but the main drawback was that persons interested in writing also wanted avenues for quick publishing which we cound not guarantee. Funds and funding possibilites dried up, some persons became heavily involved in further academic study, membership dwindled and it became increasingly hard for the committed few to continue. 

To revive the CWC, it needs to be registered with the Government and keep the kinds of records this demands. One of the main deterrents to the continued existence of this kind of group is that it is based entirely on voluntary service which often, for various very legitimate reasons, cannot be sustained. The organization needs some kind of established secretariat, with at least one body paid to control and carry out its functions on a regular basis. 

The CWC was not the main contributer to the numbers of children’s books published in Jamaica. There were a few established publishers doing this for some time. Also, some books were self-published. What the CWC did was to encourage new writers and emphasize training for children’s writers. At its most vibrant stage, different aspects of writing for children were discussed at regular monthly meetings attended by 10 to 12 persons. Meetings were sometimes held at the president’s home and sometimes in schools, or the main library’s reading room which was a more central location for those travelling by bus.

The Children’s Writers Circle served a good purpose at a time when there was little publicity about and access to Jamaican children’s books. However, as indicated above, it became increasingly difficult to maintain activities in a group that was dependent on volunteers. 

It is important to note also that times have changed. There are now a number of younger children’s writers; there are some three new children’s publishers run by these younger writers. In addition, self-publishing with its option for either e-books or hardcopies, or both, has resulted in many new writers being able to see their stories in print. What is significant is that self-publishing has not always resulted in inferior packaging. Our children’s writers and publishers have been able to produce material of quality. And although marketing and the selling of books in a small market remain a challenge, one can say that the future for Jamaican children’s books is encouraging.

Selection of Children's Books Published by the CWC

Childhood Whispers by Pat Persaud, CWC, 1988
Children! Children! by Pat Persaud, CWC, 1986
Gammon and the Woman’s Tongue Trees by Diane Browne, CWC, 1987.
Just Suppose So and Other Stories by Diane Browne, Lorrise Da Costa, Paula Ellis, Jean Forbes, Berna McIntosh, Eda Haejsib and Pat Persaud. Edited by Diane Browne and Michael Reckord, illustarted by Andrea Haynes, CWC, 1990
Little People by Pat Persaud, illustrated by Cathi Levy, 1984
The Big River and Other Stories, CWC, 1984
Things I Like by Diane Browne, CWC, 1984.
Tipsy by Pat Persaud; edited by Elaine Brooks; illustrated by Cathi Levy, CWC, 1986

About the Author

Diane Browne has been writing for more than 20 years. Her children’s stories have been published in the United Kingdom, in the USA and in Jamaica. She has won gold medals for her children’s stories in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s literary competitions and her books have won awards from the Book Industry Association of Jamaica. She received the Bronze Musgrave Medal in 2004 for her work in children’s literature. In 2011, she won the Special Prize for a Story for Children in the Commonwealth Foundation short story competition. In 2014, her YA book, Island Princess in Brooklyn, was shortlisted for the inaugural CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. Most recently, she self-published the 2016 picturebooks Abigail’s Glorious Hair and The Happiness Dress.

About the Author

Lorrise DaCosta is the author of two short story collections for children, Double Trouble and Other Stories and Just Suppose and Other Stories, both published by the Children's Writers Circle. In the 1994 National Literary Arts Competition sponsored by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, she won a silver medal and a certificate of merit. She also won bronze medals in 1989 and 1990. She holds a diploma in writing for children from the Institute of Children's Literature in Connecticut, USA.

Read More

[Interview] Author to Author: A Conversation Between Nadia L. Hohn and Itah Sadu

Caribbean-Canadian children's authors Itah Sadu and Nadia L. Hohn stand at opposite ends of their writing careers— Sadu about to publish her tenth picturebook, Greetings, Leroy, in May 2017 and Hohn still riding the wave of success from her debut picturebook, Malaika's Costume, released in early 2016. Both books are published by Groundwood Books, an independent Canadian children's book publisher, and both tug at the theme of immigration. Born to immigrant parents themselves, Sadu and Hohn inhabit a growing sphere of Canadian literary culture carved out largely by black women writers, many of them with Caribbean roots. They have both created black-owned spaces— a bookstore and a writers network— which serve as vital hubs for their communities. In the spirit of the authors salon, we asked them to dialogue without any planned topic or prompt and let us in on the conversation. Here's what they had to offer.


Itah Interviews Nadia L. Hohn

Itah Sadu: What is the coolest thing you have done in your career as an author?

Nadia Hohn: For me that would be organizing and traveling on my own book tour.  I enjoyed connecting with people and made appearances or presentations at schools, libraries and bookstores in Ottawa, Toronto, Brampton, Montreal, New York City, Boston, Atlanta and London. I found and signed my books in bookstores in Miami and New Orleans, and even at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum in Massachusetts.  

It was all done on a shoestring budget and I had a great time staying at hostels, hotels, and relatives’ homes, traveling by plane, train and automobile, and vacationing too. It was also cool to see how Malaika’s Costume, my picturebook set in the Caribbean, written in “patois lite”, connected with readers cross-culturally and across age groups. 

IS: Who were your favourite authors growing up?

NH: I didn’t really have one when I was young but I got into Laura Ingalls Wilder in my childhood years. In my teens I liked Rita Williams Garcia, Babysitters Club author Ann M. Martin, Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, Rosa Guy and Walter Dean Myers 

IS:  What cultural influences do you bring to your work as a children's writer?

NH: Caribbean culture, music and language, as well as childhood interactions are all influence my writing.  My personal mission is to ensure our histories do not get forgotten and this also comes out in my writing.  In Canada, my identity is Jamaican yes, Caribbean yes, West African yes; it is hybridized, a pan-African-Caribbean if you will.  

I grew up listening to reggae, ska, and rocksteady at home and eating curried chicken, oxtail, curried goat, soup on Saturday, and rice and peas.  My childhood friend invited me to events at Our Lady of Good Counsel’s Caribbean Catholic Church where she attended.  There, I ate pilau and macaroni pie and would watch her Trinidadian mom dance to soca and sing old calypsos. 

I would marvel at how another friend with Guyanese parents was Black and her aunties Indian. Her mom once gave me sugar water when I skinned my knee.  I would talk to my best friend’s Barbadian grandmother whom I had difficulty understanding at first, but years later I could grasp every word and cadence clearly.  My friends were Grenadian, St. Lucian, Barbadian, Jamaican, Trinidadian, Guyanese, and of course many other ethnicities each with a different story, listening to their parents’ accents, different cooking smells in their homes, all of us growing up in Toronto.  

Of course, attending and playing Mas’ in Caribana (Toronto’s annual Caribbean Carnival) had a large part to play in the backstory of Malaika’s Costume.  The culture of Carnival in Trinidad was also a major influence.  I have not yet been to Trinidad but would love to go. The poetry of Miss Lou and Jamaican proverbs, their musicality and cadences, all influence my writing of both stories and songs. 

IS: Why children's literature? Have you considered writing for adults? 

NH: My writing for adults is in the form of magazine and newspaper articles, and through my blog; however, I have been making picturebooks since I was a child.  I also started writing novels in elementary school. I wrote about people who were the same age I was but now, stories often come to me that are for children. I feel a personal responsibility to teach, inspire and entertain children.  

As a teacher at the Africentric School, although there was a great collection of books in the library, I found very few books that reflected my students who were Canadians of Caribbean and African descent. There was a lack of books about certain topics so I started writing some stories myself. I'm on a personal mission to write books that educate younger and future generations about Caribbean cultures and that expose them to stories from the African diaspora. 

IS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

NH: Keep writing. Find a community that is supportive, encourages you and gives you good feedback. Write about all kinds of things, including outside of your genre. Stretch yourself. Read. Never stop learning, take courses, go to conferences, meet other writers.  Don’t give up (as clichéd as that sounds). Lastly, in the words of Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

IS: How can writers of color impact the Canadian publishing industry? 

NH: I think we can impact the industry both inside and outside. First, we must get our books published. We need to write great manuscripts and send them to publishers and work at our craft. We need to make sure we are at the decision-making table, so we need to get in there and work in the industry. 

Writers of colour are highly underrepresented in the publishing industry but have a long history of independent (self) publishing and developing alternative presses of our own. In addition to these, I think we need to be “at the table” in mainstream publishing conversations in order to see a shift. Movements like We Need Diverse Books and publications like Anansesem are needed to increase the visibility of our work. We need to play a role in the acquisitions process and marketing like my Haitian-Canadian colleague Leonicka Valcius is doing, and hold others accountable to increase the publication of more diverse books. 

IS: What motivates you? From where do you draw inspiration?

NH: From life and my students. They inspire me to write new stories. Seeing the joy that children get from stories and the inspiration I can share is so important. Sometimes it’s the character or the situations that influence me and also life. Life is full of pain but sometimes humour can be found there too. Learning about interesting people and hearing their stories makes me realize that they need to be shared. 

IS: How has your teaching experience shaped your writing? 

NH: Hugely. I get to spend every day, all day, with students. As an educator, I think a lot about the absence of our stories as people of colour and I worry that future generations of the African and Caribbean diaspora will forget our wisdom or histories. Sometimes, while teaching, I think up new stories or characters who are an amalgam of the children I know. Sometimes, stories come from the need to creatively teach something; but of course, with a picturebook, you can’t be so explicit or over the top with your teaching.  Kids can smell that from a mile away. The story comes first above all, it has to be good, or else children won’t like it. They are pretty obvious about that too. The lessons are kind of sprinkled in.  

IS: What is the current role of Sankofa Pen and what is your vision of the group? 

NH: Sankofa’s Pen began as an idea that I had at the end of 2013 when I received two publishing contracts that I was about to sign. Even though I belonged to other writing organizations and groups, I felt the need to find and connect with other writers of colour who are focused on children and young adults, and writing about similar things. There was nothing like that at the time so I formed the African-Canadian Writers for Children and Young Adults (ACWCYA). My vision was to provide a support network and workshops and for it to be communal. I eventually changed the name to Sankofa’s Pen.  We have a Facebook group. 

IS: Name an emerging author we should be looking out for in the future? 

NH: Hmmm… I am in touch with quite a few authors so I don’t want to just pick one. In kid lit in Canada, I am thrilled that there are more and more people of colour writing kid lit and in publishing. The number is small but growing. There are several self-published authors in the African diaspora whose books I love; however, I would like to see more first-generation Caribbeans (like myself) writing and publishing books. In terms of kid lit authors with Caribbean and Canadian roots, I am thinking of Simone Da Costa, Jennifer Mook-Sang, Nadine Chevolleau, Natasha Henry, Ann Marie Meyers, and Zetta Elliott who are all “killing it.”  I would love to see more of their work now and I think they are doing really well.  I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

Nadia L. Hohn (L) and Itah Sadu (R) at the launch of Malaika's Costume
at Sadu's bookstore, A Different Booklist


Nadia Interviews Itah Sadu

Nadia Hohn: I know you are both Barbadian and Trinbagonian. What are your roots in the Caribbean? 

IS: I am especially proud to say that my roots are in the beautiful country of Barbados, because 2016 marks Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence. This shaped my formative and early years. My family understood the value of independence and what it represented. 

NH: I’ve heard you attribute your earliest writing influences to the storytelling that took place around you while growing up. Can you tell us what that was like? 

IS: My home in Barbados was in front of a sugar factory; can you imagine the “sweetness”? I lived across the street from the beach…endless pleasure. The rum shop was two doors away. The butcher was my neighbor. There was the mid-wife; the fisherman; Clem, the man who sold milk and had a donkey; Ms. Headley the seamstress; Ms. Gibbs who went to America; Ms. Griffith who had an accent. They all told stories and had stories of their own. There was the climbing of every fruit tree, freedom… these childhood memories have inspired my writing as well. A million stories to be found. 

NH: What year did you migrate to Canada?  

IS: Well, I was born in Canada. As a child, I was sent off to Barbados to be steeped in my grandparents’ love. There, I was educated in the ways of the culture. I was brought up with the knowledge that African-Caribbean people are people of excellence and are able to undertake any aspect of leadership. I returned to Canada in the early 70s. 

NH: Who is the audience for the books you write?   

IS: Everyone! In particular, children. 

NH: Why was it important for you to open your bookstore, A Different Booklist? 

IS: I believe I had that romantic desire to own a bookstore. Writers, I have learned, have a couple of desires in life. To write something down. To write poetry and get it published. To record family history. Me on the other hand, I bought a bookstore because someone sold me the idea at 11.00 pm at night. Now that’s a story. 

NH: You have been an oral storyteller for many years. When and how did you decide to commit your stories to the written page? 

IS: In 1986, the late Dr. Milton Phillips met me in the parking lot of Tropicana Community Services in Ontario. He said, “Young lady, you are great storyteller. Think ‘Dr. Seuss’ and write your stories down.” The rest is history. As Barbados’ national anthem states, “We write our names on history’s page with expectations great.” 

NH: How does your Caribbean background/ancestry influence and come through in your writing? 

IS: Reference points. The rhythm of the piece. I write through the lens of Caribbean people. I am Caribbean and I write what I know. 

NH: You have a new book coming out in 2017. Can you please tell us about it? 

IS: Greetings Leroy, which will be published by Groundwood Books, is a story about Roy, a boy from Jamaica, and his first day at school as an immigrant in Canada. The book references the artist whose music is played very second, every minute, every hour, everywhere, every day in the world. I mean Bob Marley of course. 

NH: Where did the inspiration for the book come from

IS: One evening after a book fair, a teacher came to the bookstore and said, “I look forward to a book on Bob Marley for my students. He was a great ambassador of peace.” I found it interesting that people from all walks of life are brought together by their shared love of Bob Marley, which is what happens in the book.

NH: Was it harder to get published after the first time?  

IS: Sixth time, seventh time…it’s always hard. I welcome independent publishing and publishers. I thank the hip hop movement for leading the way in breaking this glass ceiling.

NH: Can you paint a picture of what it was like for you as a newcomer (and at one time you were also a publisher) to a Canadian literary landscape that was far less diverse and socially aware than now? How much has changed since then? 

IS: I am less interested in looking back and more interested in where we are going with publishing and technology in Canada and the world. Will we continually seek permission to enter spaces or will we define new spaces and ways of doing things? The glass is full, not half-empty. This is the PR we have to debunk. 

NH: Can you separate your art/your writing from your activism? 

IS: I haven’t met such an artist yet.

About the Author

Itah Sadu was born in Canada and raised in Barbados. She is a cultural animator and advocate, an award-winning storyteller and a bestselling children's author. She is the co-owner of the independent bookstore, A Different Booklist, a cultural destination located on Bathurst Street in Toronto, Canada.

About the Author

Nadia L Hohn began writing, illustrating and making books at age five. She is the author of the Music and Media books in the Sankofa Series (Rubicon Publishing, 2015.) In 2014, she was awarded the Helen Issobel Sissons Canadian Children's Book Award for her picturebook manuscript, Malaika's Costume, which was published by Groundwood Books and won the 2015-2016 Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Children's Literature Award. She has studied writing at the Highlights Foundation, Humber College School of Writers, George Brown College and Voices of our Nation (VONA). Le Costume de Malaika, the French translation of Malaika’s Costume, is due in January 2017 and the sequel, Malaika's Winter Carnival, is due in the fall of 2017. Presently, she is on leave from her Toronto public school teaching position and lives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) where she teaches early grades music.

Read More