By Sandra Sealy
Today April 2nd marks #InternationalChildrensBookDay. According to the International Board on Books For Young People (IBBY):
“Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, 2 April, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.”
This is wonderful – pausing to consider how books influence young minds and the celebration of their creators. I tutor creative writing (some of the young ones have even won national awards – yay) and have written a couple stories and a poem or two for this audience. So, I thought it was gratifying.
But then, it also made me also think about the under-representation of the creative children’s authors, writers, storytellers, poets and illustrators the Caribbean when marking this day. Especially those who don’t make it into stand-alone published work.
Thankfully, Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine, the brainchild of Summer Edward, breaks boundaries. This literary e-zine featuring illustrators and children’s lit writers of the region and diaspora pops up fairly prominently when you do a search. It even offers an opportunity for youth to submit their work.
I’ll name a few more of my favourites (even at the risk of vexing somebody by leaving them out): Deanne Kennedy (Barbados), Gregory Fitt (Barbados), Kellie Magnus (Jamaica), Nailah Imoja (Barbados), June Stoute (Barbados), Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua), Sonia S. Williams (Barbados), Barbara Chase (Barbados), Ramabai Espinet (Trinidad/Canada), Susan Haynes-Elcock (Barbados/UK), Katy Gash (Barbados/US), Carol Mitchell (St. Kitts-Nevis) and Marsha Gomes-McKie (Trinidad).
Then there are the amazing illustrators – some of them in the form of double-threats (who write and draw) like Jason Cole (Barbados).
It’s also gratifying to see top-of-feed in a Google search, the colourful, lively book cover art of Caribbean children’s authors like Diane Browne (Jamaica) and Cedella Marley (Jamaica). But there are so many more not captured and so much more to be done.
Where is evidence of the cultural and literary arts festivals of the region including writers for children and juveniles? How do interested parties find scholarly writings addressing this? How do we support our writers by finding and purchasing such books? What about seeing images of this work when you do a search on Flickr?
It’s frustrating to know so much is happening within and outside of the Caribbean but so little known to the world.
It could be the formidable competition of today’s devices and tech vs paper-based publishing for targeted audiences or maybe it’s because we don’t promote and project ourselves enough. The prohibitive cost of book production and associated taxes and duties for publishers come to mind. Can it be also that our oral griot traditions are part of the challenge/ solution?
Funding is obviously one of the main challenges. While the government can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all, more opportunities to develop and support these creatives through the provision of grants and b) maintaining (rather than cutting) budgets for related projects, are necessary.
Maybe we need to create more international linkages and more importantly, develop alliances (online and real world) while promoting news and links from those groups loudly. There should be more cross-fertilization between writers/poets and visual artists/ photographers etc. We definitely need to work more closely with our national libraries to ensure ALL our works are deposited and around for posterity. We should get more of our books into schools and lobby our education ministers. We should work with our filmmakers to take more advantage of our oral heritage. It also would help if those achieving measurable success, reach back more to promote the emerging. We absolutely have to keep this relevant and inspiring for the next generation.
I do have hope, though, when I think of how my journey started with my community – at the grassroots level with VOICES: Barbados Writers’ Collective and nationally with the Literary Arts Desk of the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados.
Clearly, I don’t have all the answers. But, I decided to do my part by at least having a conversation in this space about it.
Share your thoughts with me about this post and please add to my list of must-reads or Caribbean children’s authors.
© 2018 Sandra Sealy
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