[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.


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.

[Book List] Back to School After an Environmental Disaster: Teaching Hurricane Irma

Illustration by Tim Clarey from HURRICANE by Verna Allette Wilkins
Earlier this week, we woke up to the news of the huge damages suffered by many Caribbean islands due to Hurricane Irma. Early this morning, I reached out to Carmen (one of our Associate Editors) to see how she'd fared over in Puerto Rico and thankfully she and her family are safe and haven't suffered any major losses. Particularly heart-wrenching are the first images of the devastation in Barbuda where it's reported that 90% of the homes are damaged and 50% of the population is now homeless. In the wake of Irma, the island was unreachable for a few hours— inconceivable in this day and age.Barbuda's Prime Minister spoke out about climate injustice on BBC Today and linked climate change to the rise in severe hurricanes in the region; large industrial nations are the heaviest polluters and we in the Caribbean suffer at their expense. There's more than enough science to support it, yet some leaders of powerful nations continue to deny climate change.
Illustration by Jesse Joshua Watson from HOPE FOR HAITI
It's also back-to-school week, and in places like Barbuda, a disaster of this scale is surely going to affect students' psycho-emotional and academic welfare for years to come. Roofs have been blown off of school buildings and classroom supplies have been destroyed. It will be some time before the country returns to a state of normalcy and schools are officially back up and running. To help young people process the trauma and move forward, I’ve compiled a list of learning resources and tools that schools and educators can use to respond to the storm and its aftermath with students. There aren't enough "own voices" Caribbean children's books about hurricanes and other disasters; below, the orange "Own" sticker is used to indicate the book is an #ownvoices one written by a Caribbean author. Also, it's really time for some more creativity when it comes to the titles of these "hurricane books", if you see what I mean.

Media Literacy Tools Bri and Luk – The Great Adventure: An Animated Tale: A fun animated story created by The Future Centre Trust (Barbados) to compliment the Bri and Luk Climate Change Learning Series which consists of one factual book (Book 1) a storybook (Book 2 ) and a puppet show, all of which focus on educating children on the basics of climate change adaptation with the help of nine character friends. The Jamaica ODPEM Website for Kids: The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management in Jamaica has created a website for children ages 6-12 to help them learn how to prepare for hurricanes and other adverse events. The website's resources include a download center, videos, a list of safety tips and more. ¿Cuál es el pasatiempo del Sr. Sapo? (What is Mr. Toad's hobby?): In the Spanish-language video produced by the USDA's (United States Department of Agriculture) Centro Climático del Caribe (Caribbean Climate Center), based in Puerto Rico, we see how Señor Sapo (Mr. Toad) learns how to prepare the soil and manages to harvest fruits and vegetables after his orchard is affected by a drought followed by a heavy flood. The video is available on the Youtube channel of Atención Atención, a Puerto Rican children's music program. Also available is El Huerto del Señor Sapo (Mr. Toad's Orchard), a coloring book based on the video that the Center uses as an educational medium at agricultural and environmental fairs around the island. Disaster Awareness for Schools: A Resource Guide for Caribbean Teachers: This downloadable guide created by the The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) provides a select list of books, articles, pamphlets, brochures, posters, and other items on hazards, risks, and disasters that are held in disaster management agencies in the Caribbean. Greenz Climate Champion Toolkit for Children: This interactive climate change toolkit was created by Integrated Climate Change Adaptation Strategies (ICCAS) in collaboration with the government of Grenada for primary schools in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. This Grenada-specific toolkit includes worksheets, a teacher's manual, stickers, posters and more.

Children's Books
Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson When the earth shook, his whole neighborhood disappeared. Now a boy and his mother are living in the soccer stadium, in a shelter made of tin and bed sheets, with long lines for food and water. But even with so much sorrow all around, he finds a child playing with a soccer ball made of rags. Soon many children are caught up in the magic of the game. Then the kids are given a truly wonderful gift. A soccer ball might seem simple, but really it's a powerful link between a heartbroken country's past and its hopes for the future. A testament to the strength of the Haitian people and the spirit of childhood.
Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge DanticatFrom National Book Award nominee Edwidge Danticat comes a timely, brilliantly crafted story of hope and imagination--a powerful tribute to Haiti and children around the world. Hope comes alive in this heartfelt and deeply resonating story. While Junior is trapped for 8 days beneath his collapsed house after an earthquake, he uses his imagination for comfort. Drawing on beautiful, everyday-life memories, Junior paints a sparkling picture of Haiti for each of those days--flying kites with his best friend or racing his sister around St. Marc's Square--helping him through the tragedy until he is finally rescued. Love and hope dance across each page--granting us a way to talk about resilience as a family, a classroom, or a friend. Illustrated by Alix Delinois.
Hurricane by Verna Allette WilkinsTroy and Nita are sent home early from school because of a hurricane warning, but instead of going straight home, they stop to visit a friend. They get caught up in the storm and don't get back until well after dark. Illustrated by Tim Clarey.
Sergio and the Hurricane by Alexandra Wallner Sergio lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan is usually sunny and peaceful, but one day the sky grows dark and the ocean gets choppy. A hurricane is coming, and Sergio and his family must prepare for the storm. Sergio is excited at first, but he soon realizes that hurricanes can be dangerous. Through the experiences of one little boy, readers will learn about hurricanes and the damage they can do. And they'll also see how a community can pull together to repair that damage. With her signature folk-art style and lively text, Alexandra Wallner captures the bright colors and sounds of Puerto Rico and shows young readers what it is really like to live through a hurricane.
Hurricane! by Jonathan London One moment the sun is shining on the slopes of El Yunque, the largest mountain in eastern Puerto Rico, the next, everything has changed. The sky has turned deep purple, and you feel as if the air has been sucked from your lungs. That can mean only one thing: A hurricane is coming! Illustrated by Henri Sorensen.
Shauna's Hurricane by Francine JacobsOne day, at her school on a little island in the Caribbean Sea, a message comes to Shauna's teacher. She stops the class and says, "A hurricane is coming! Hurry home. There’ll be lots to do." This book belongs to the Hop, Step, Jump series aimed at children around 6 to 11 years old. Hop, Step, Jump is not a reading scheme, but a set of absorbing, child-centred stories, rhymes, riddles, songs and fact books, collected from diverse sources and illustrated in a variety of styles. The books are arranged at three language levels: Hop, Step and Jump. This book is in the Step level.
Hurricane by Andrew SalkeyA lively illustrated masterpiece, this is the gripping story of a natural disaster and the 13-year-old Kingston boy who lives to tell the tale. While holed up in their home, Joe Brown, his sister Mary, and their parents wait for the eye of the hurricane to pass over their home. Outside, a terrifying wind turns trees to splinters, darkness swallows the land, and torrential rains lash the roof. Celebrating Jamaica’s resilience in the face of natural disasters, this account follows the family as they huddle, worry, wait, and hope—together.
I Came From the Water: One Haitian Boy's Incredible Tale of Survival by Vanita Oelschlager The story is based on the real-life experiences of Moses, an eight year-old boy and resident of St. Helene's orphanage outside Port-au-Prince. As an infant, he was rescued after being swept away in a flood. Homeless and orphaned, he begins life anew in a children's village. Then the 2010 earthquake strikes followed by a devastating hurricane. Moses helps the children in his orphanage adapt to their new lives and helps a priest and the nuns save other victims. Illustrated by Mike Blanc.
The Day the Hurricane Happened by John Lonzo Anderson On the Caribbean island of St. John, a family experiences the drama, danger, and destruction of a hurricane. When the warning flag goes up, Albie and Eldra rush to help their grandfather secure the house, boat and animals while their father, a policeman, goes off to pass the word. When their house is destroyed, they must find a way to survive. Illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. Bri and Luk Climate Change Learning Series by Nicole Garofano
The Future Centre Trust's (Barbados) Bri and Luk Climate Change Learning Series was designed to help students and their teachers understand the effects of global climate change on Barbados and the region. Here the story of Luk the polar bear unfolds. Luk comes to the Caribbean with his friend Bri the hummingbird to learn from the local animals and children how climate change is beginning to affect them. Includes Bri and Luk: Friends In Times of Changing Climates: Climate Change Adaptation for Caribbean Youth (Book 1) and Bri and Luk: The Great Adventure (Book 2).
L'ouragan by Pascale Bougeault This French-language book, set in the French Antilles, follows a little girl named Lucette and her family as they prepare for the arrival of a hurricane. Un ouragan terrible s’approche de notre île. Il s’appelle Octave. Toute la famille se rassemble et se calfeutre. Pépé amène son cochon, Mamija apporte sa soupière chérie, Papa range les cactus, Maman cloue les volets, Lucette prépare des bougies et des bassines d’eau. Tout est prêt. Vas-y,Octave, tu peux souffler! Mais où est passée la chienne, Cacahouète? Lucette est très inquiète, d’autant plus qu’elle n’a pas le droit d’aller la chercher… Tant pis! Allons-y! Attention, danger!

Bonus: For a look at how pets and animals deal with environmental disasters, read Mauby and the Hurricane by Barbadian children's author Peter Laurie, illustrated by H. Ann Dodson.

About the Author

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

[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 sinceroDe donde crece la palma,Y antes de morirme quieroEchar 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 emmaotheguy.com.

[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 dianamccaulay.com.

[Event] Nadia L. Hohn in Conversation with Summer Edward

August 2nd, 2017 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

On Wednesday August 2nd, 2017, join us for a conversation with Anansesem alum Nadia L. Hohn, an award-winning Jamaican children's author based in Canada.

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, was published in January 2017 and the sequel, Malaika's Winter Carnival, is due in the fall of 2017.

Hohn will talk children's literature, writing, and her recent books and take questions from the audience in this discussion. Moderator Summer Edward is a former judge of the Golden Baobab Prizes for African children's literature and Anansesem's Editor-in-Chief.

We published a review of Malaika's Costume (read it here) and an interview with Hohn (read it here) in our December 2016 issue, and we couldn't be more thrilled that she's coming to Trinidad.

Attending this event? RSVP here

The flyer below can be downloaded and shared on social media, in fact, we encourage it!


    Arima Public Library
    #31 Pro Queen Street
    Arima, Trinidad

    (868) 667-3370

    Anansesem Caribbean
    children's literature

Emancipating Caribbean Literature for Children

Illustration by Mark Greenwood from DRUMMER BOY OF JOHN JOHN by Frané Lessac

The following is a resurrection of a blog post published by our Editor-in-Chief a few years ago on her now defunct blog.

August 1st is Emancipation Day in my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. The annual observance is celebrated on the anniversary of the passing of the Emancipation Bill that ended chattel slavery in what was then the British Empire. On August 1st, 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

One hundred and seventy-nine years have passed since the Emancipation Bill came into effect on August 1st, 1838. By comparison, 37 years have passed since the great Robert Nesta Marley, echoing the sentiments of the Jamaican Pan-Africanist orator, Marcus Garvey, penned the famous line of his 'Redemption Song':
Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
none but ourselves can free our minds.
As I think about what Emancipation Day means to the people of the Caribbean, I cannot help but also think of what the observance means to me as a person and as a writer. As for any writer, the two things are intricately connected; I wouldn't be myself if I couldn't write.

And what kind of person-writer do I strive to be? I'm intent on being a writer who can write about my people, for my people. I seek to write from a secure identity, knowing that my voice is just as important, just as valid as other voices in the world. I want to be free to write with a clear head, with a clear conscience, knowing that I am not telling lies, or pandering to the white women who dominate publishing, but writing about what I know. I want to be free to judge my work by a standard of value and authenticity determined by myself and Caribbean people, by those who understand and are sympathetic to my reality, not by a foreign publishing world deaf and blind to my lived experiences and concerns.

I want to write knowing that as a Caribbean person, I am free to "talk my talk" on paper, in poetry, in song, in craft, in readings, in gatherings of writers. I want to be free from the voices that tell me I will never be a successful, widely-read children's author because Caribbean children's books simply don't sell. I want to be free from that insidious conditioning that tells me that children's books by foreign authors are automatically of a higher literary quality and should secure my consumption and respect, while children's books written by Caribbean people gather dust on the bottom shelves of bookstores and history.

Free us from these big, bad myths.

When I reflect on why Caribbean children's literature means so much to me, I think about the huge responsibility laid on the shoulders of the Caribbean children's/YA writer/publisher. Ours is the burden of unsilencing voices, putting names to anonymity, reconditioning mindsets that are formed from the cradle. Ours is the burden of emancipating Caribbean literature for young people from literary models passed down to us from colonial headmasters and embracing instead models of our own making. We are tasked with using stories to help Caribbean children question dominant ideologies, love themselves and know their worth.

The more one thinks about the possibility of Caribbean children's literature being something that can be "enslaved" the more it makes sense, since the literature of any people is a product of that people's lived experiences in a particular social, economic, political, and historical context. From the de-legitimatizing of our nation languages to the necessity of relying on foreign publishing houses to publish our books, to the ingrained attitudes that keep Caribbean people from bringing certain conversations (like the region's rampant adultism for example) to the forefront of Caribbean society, Caribbean children's writers have historically faced barriers on every side, barriers that have made it that much harder for us to use our voices and experiment as freely as we would like to.

Yet we have persisted. We have pushed through. Somehow, we have carried on.

Today, as I celebrate Emancipation Day, my status as a dual Trinbagonian-American citizen reminds me that I am part of a generation of Caribbean writers who have found it easier to blossom outside of the region I call home. In many ways, going back and forth between Trinidad and the USA has afforded me a certain kind of freedom, has emancipated me from certain concerns. But I am also reminded of my responsibility to give back, to use whatever visibility and access I gain as someone with American ties to raise awareness of the difficulties that Caribbean young people and Caribbean children's writers face. And also, to raise awareness of all that Caribbean people celebrate and are proud of. I am thankful for the lessons and points of view that come with being able to stand on the outside looking in.

And as I think about emancipating myself from my own (and my parents') history of colonial schooling, my own history of not being able to find myself and my experiences reflected in the books I read as a child, Jamaican poet, Olive Senior's indelible poem, Colonial Girl's School comes to mind:

Colonial Girl's School

Borrowed images
willed our skins pale
muffled our laughter
lowered our voices
let out our hems
dekinked our hair
denied our sex in gym tunics and bloomers
harnessed our voices to madrigals
and genteel airs
yoked our minds to declensions in Latin
and the language of Shakespeare

Told us nothing about our selves
There was nothing at all

How those pale northern eyes and
aristocratic whispers once erased us
how our loudness, our laughter
debased us.

There was nothing left of ourselves
Nothing about us at all

Studying: History Ancient and Modern
Kings and Queens of England
Steppes of Russia
Wheat fields of Canada

There was nothing of our landscape there
Nothing about us at all

Marcus Garvey turned twice in grave.
Thirty-eight was a beacon. A flame.
They were talking of a desegregration
In Little Rock, Arkansas, Lumumba
and the Congo. To us mumbo-jumbo.
We had read Vachel Lindsay's
vision of the jungle.

Finding nothing about us there
There was nothing about us at all

Months, years, a childhood memorising
Latin declensions
(For our language ­'bad talking' detentions)
Finding nothing about us there
Nothing about us at all

So, friend of my childhood years
One day we'll talk about
How the mirror broke
Who kissed us awake
Who let Anansi from his bag

For isn't it strange how
northern eyes
in the brighter world before us now


About the Author

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

[Interview] Ruth Behar: Finding Wholeness in the Age of Multicultural Childhoods

This interview comes out of an on-stage conversation I had with Richard Blanco at Books & Books in Miami on July 25, 2017. Richard Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet of the United States and the first Latino and openly gay man to be selected for this honor. I am fortunate to have been close friends with Richard for over twenty years and to have traveled together with him to Cuba three times. Together we run the Bridges to/from Cuba blog dedicated to telling untold and emotionally profound stories about the Cuban experience. I greatly appreciated Richard’s interview questions and decided to write out our exchange, so this conversation could be remembered.

Richard Blanco: So Ruth, to get things going and add some context, give us a brief synopsis of Lucky Broken Girl in your own words. And, more importantly, tell us what inspired you to write it? What was the urgency?

Ruth Behar: Lucky Broken Girl is a book about a Cuban immigrant girl just arriving in New York, starting to find her way, when she is involved in a terrible car accident with her family. She suffers a serious fracture to her right leg and is placed in a body cast so that her legs will grow at the same rate. She spends a year in bed. Sad and angry at first, she gradually comes to accept her state and find luck in her suffering. Immobile, she takes a journey of the mind and the heart, learning that she isn’t the only one who suffers and listening to the stories of those around her. She comes to forgive the boys who caused the accident who died as a result of their recklessness, and she realizes that she is now on another life path, finding her way toward becoming an artist, inspired by Frida Kahlo, whom she discovers through the kindness of a Mexican neighbor.

This was a story I had carried with me all my life – I was that girl in the body cast. The accident was an event that changed my life and made me the person I am today. I had tried to tell the story earlier, but from the point of view of my adult self looking back on her childhood. The accident created some serious trauma. I never felt totally secure about my leg, always feared it could break again, and never could run well afterwards. I get panic attacks on the highway and can only drive on side streets. I have never forgotten the experience. It was etched into my body. Nearing sixty, I decided I needed to write down my story, but from the point of view of the girl─ Ruthie’s perspective. Somehow the child’s voice felt natural to me, as if the girl was whispering in my ear. The story flowed out of me as no other writing had before. The first draft was a series of vignettes that I then developed into full chapters.

RBL: Given that this story is partly autobiographical, why did you choose to write a novel for young adults, instead of, say, a memoir, or some other genre? As both a reader and a writer, I’m curious: What’s the difference between a young adult novel and a “regular” novel? What defines the genre of young adult literature as you understand it? You and I often talk about our mutual interest in blurring or bridging genres. Was that part of what you wanted to do in this book?

RBE: Writing for young readers gave me a sense of freedom; I could write with a mix of innocence and wisdom, which is the way kids approach the world. I felt a need to go deep into that experience, which I had shelved away as being in the past, over and done with, and revive it, to see who that girl I was had been and give her the full empathy she deserved. As a child, I was often reminded that I was lucky to have survived, that a broken leg wasn’t the worst that could have happened. Five young men died in the accident and the woman in the car in front of us was left paralyzed. So in resurrecting that moment, I could give that girl a chance to speak and be heard and be loved.

My novel is technically a middle-grade novel, not a young adult novel. The protagonist is 10 and middle grade goes to age 12, then the teenage years, 13-18, is the young adult genre. But younger and older kids are reading the book, as are adults.

Middle grade and young adult literature have young protagonists and the world is seen from their perspective. The language is accessible to children and teens but not simple by any means; indeed, books for young readers are often very poetic and lyrical. One of the things I love about writing for young readers is that I can let the poet in me speak.

Blurring and bridging genres─ yes, it’s something I do in all my work. I’m interested in the limits of what we can say within a certain form. When I read a book, I always want to know who the person writing the book is, so I’ve often meshed the autobiographical with my writing about people I’ve come to know on my journeys as an anthropologist. When writing ethnographies about people I’ve interviewed, I include my own story as an observer. It’s very hard to observe others without being affected by what they’re telling you. I have tried to express something of the poetry of getting to know the people placed in my path. The kindness of strangers, which is such a huge gift, makes it possible for us to go beyond our tribal understanding of the world and expand our ability to accept cultural differences and diversity.

RBL: I found Lucky Broken Girl just as moving and engaging as an adult novel, with just as many revealing and profound truths. I was especially moved by the novel’s message that we are all figuratively “broken” in some way. But we heal and our healing makes us stronger. Tell us more about that.

RBE: Thank you for your kind words. I agree that the main theme of the book is exactly that─ we are all broken in some way, by loss, by trauma, by sorrows we experience, and everyone is trying to heal and become stronger. What child has not suffered an injury? What child has not felt a wound to the body or the mind? We learn about boo-boos when we are tiny. We can be broken by cruel words that have been said to us by family, friends or strangers. We can also be broken by our experiences of losing home, of losing a sense of belonging. As immigrants, often we spend our lives trying to become whole again. Ruthie is broken away from Cuba, her homeland, and she experiences it through her mother’s memories, fragments of the island that have come with the family in their suitcases. We are all in constant search of wholeness.

RBL: I’m always inspired by your perspectives as a cultural anthropologist, especially on matters of the Cuban diaspora. You and your work have helped me understand so much about myself and the context of my own work. So, how does anthropology inform this novel? How does Ruth, the “anthropologist,” show up in the book?

RBE: Anthropology informs all my work; it is my perspective, my framework for looking at the world. I think of anthropology as the pursuit of an understanding of what makes us human, through the study of cultural diversity and difference. Being human is about the search for meaning. Storytelling is a core action that gives meaning to the lives of human beings around the globe. If we couldn’t tell stories, we wouldn’t be human. So for me, being a “storylistener” is how I have defined my role as an anthropologist; I am always listening to the stories of others and finding ways to share them with respect and gratitude.

Anthropology informs Lucky Broken Girl through an awareness of all the different immigrant groups that come together in Ruthie’s neighborhood in Queens, New York. No one is “the other” because all of the characters are “other” in that they are all Americans-in-the-making. Culture and cultural identity are key concepts in the book. Ruthie’s friend Ramu gives her a samosa to taste in school and it reminds her of the papas rellenas that her nanny used to make for her in Cuba. Ruthie asks her mother to make pastelitos de guayaba and gives one to Ramu, fearing it will be too exotic for him to appreciate, and instead he enjoys it immensely and says they also have guavas in India.

Ruthie is a “vulnerable observer,” a concept I introduced into anthropology years ago. She watches the world around her, not in a distant way, but rather with feeling, because she is vulnerable herself and sees that vulnerability in others. And she accepts the various ways that people try to offer spiritual support, whether it’s Ramu giving her his necklace with the Hindu dancing god Shiva, or her nanny in Cuba going to the shrine of San Lázaro to pray for her healing. She accepts the relativity of culture, one of the basic concepts of anthropology. She realizes that there isn’t one way of doing things; there are many ways, and they are all worthy.

RBL: Another unique perspective you bring to the literary table is that of a “Jewban”— that diaspora within a diaspora. Did that perception inform this book? How?

RBE: Jewban— yes! That Jewish-Cuban (Jewban or Juban) identity is always present in my life and work. It’s there from the start in Lucky Broken Girl, but woven into Ruthie’s worldview without a lot of fanfare. Growing up, I thought being a Jewban was normal, because I grew up with that mix of identities in my family and among my parents’ friends. Ruthie’s family eats challah for Shabbat on Friday nights, when they can afford it, and they also have a rich milky Cuban flan for dessert.

There is a lot of spiritual flexibility in Ruthie. Although aware that she is Jewish by birth, she is open to other religious traditions, which I think is a very Cuban thing. You can’t grow up in Cuba without an awareness of the santeros and the beautiful spiritual traditions the African slaves brought to Cuba. Not too long ago, I found pennies left as an offering for San Lázaro on my Sephardic Jewish father’s porch in New York.

An important character in the book is Baba, who is Ruthie’s Polish-Jewish maternal grandmother. Baba comforts Ruthie with her stories and through her, the reader learns about the Jewbans who were double refugees; they fled European anti-Semitism and found a refuge in Cuba, only to have to depart again for the United States when their economic livelihood was threatened by the communist turn of the Cuban Revolution.

Ruthie’s paternal side is Sephardic Jewish. Her father’s family is Turkish but descends from the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain. Ruthie’s last name is Mizrahi, a classic Sephardic name, but she is closer to her Ashkenazi family, who speak Yiddish. The Sephardic grandparents make a cameo appearance at her eleventh birthday party, bringing two singing canaries “para alegrar la caza,” to bring joy to the house. In real life, my Sephardic grandparents lived in Brooklyn and we saw them less often than my Ashkenazi grandparents, but I always remembered that they had songbirds, which is a Turkish tradition, and how much I loved going to their house to hear them sing.

RBL: When I was about 4 years old, my family “immigrated” to the República de Miami from New York, which is where your novel is set. Reading it made me recall some very important and tender memories of my family life in New York. Yet, it’s a setting that we don’t often find in stories about the Cuban exile experience. How does the New York setting inform the novel? What would be different if the novel happened to be set in Miami, let’s say?

RBE: Growing up in New York gave me a very unique perspective on the world. I came to experience the amazing multicultural diversity of the city, seeing different immigrants living side by side, colliding with each other. In Miami, it’s possible to be in an exclusively Cuban enclave, which continues today in neighborhoods like Westchester and Hialeah. You can find a lot of Cubans in New York─ many settled in Spanish Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s before the Cuban Revolution─ but those who came afterwards were dispersed and many went to Queens, which is a big immigrant borough of people from all over the world. I have heard it said that more languages are spoken in Queens per capita than in any other part of the United States.

Setting the novel in New York allowed me to show how Ruthie’s identity is informed by her relationship with a diverse set of immigrants─ her Indian friend Ramu, her Belgian friend Danielle, her Mexican neighbor Chicho, her Puerto Rican physical therapist Amara, and many others. She is surrounded by her Cuban family, but she realizes that they are not the only immigrants. Moreover, she learns that even within her family there are different approaches to being an immigrant. Her mother is nostalgic for Cuba, while her father thinks they should move forward and forget the past.

RBL: Given the wide spectrum of your work and interests, would you say there is some kind of central theme or obsession that ties everything together? And if so, how is that reflected in Lucky Broken Girl?

RBE: I think that what ties together all my work and interests is vulnerability, an unceasing awareness of the fragility of life. By being made vulnerable through her injury, Ruthie comes to see this fragility and to cherish the beauty of life more fully.

RBL: Lastly, how would you describe Lucky Broken Girl in one word?

RBE: LOVE. In the end, Ruthie learns a fundamental lesson: that without the love of all those who cared for her she would never have healed.

About the Author

Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba and grew up in New York City. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. A traveler, storyteller, poet, educator, and public speaker, her books include The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story and The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Ruth frequently visits and writes about her native Cuba and is the author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys. She is the editor of the pioneering anthology, Bridges to Cuba and co-editor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. Her poetry is included in many collections, among them The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Her debut novel for young readers, Lucky Broken Girl, the story of a Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl, is a 2017 release from Penguin Random House. You can find her online at www.ruthbehar.com.

About the Interviewer

Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history— the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. He was born in Madrid to Cuban exiled parents and raised in Miami. He is the author of the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey; the poetry chapbooks Matters of the Sea, One Today, and Boston Strong; the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires; a children’s book of his inaugural poem, “One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey; and Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler. With Ruth Behar, he is co-creator of the blog Bridges to/from Cuba: Lifting the Emotional Embargo. His many honors include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. You can find him online at www.richard-blanco.com.

Abundant, Not Redundant: Caribbean Kid Lit Wish List

Illustration by Sabra Field from WHERE DO THEY GO? by Julia Alvarez

I'm not one to focus on lack. Part of it is temperamental, part of it is having been raised on a solid Judeo-Christian diet of contentment. It's just makes me happier (and more productive) to focus on abundance.

As Editor-in-Chief of a Caribbean children's lit. ezine, one does a lot of reading, both the children's books themselves and what's been written about the books. I've been able to observe trends, to notice the themes and narratives that are redundant abundant in Caribbean kid lit, and also what's missing. I'm always getting requests from parents and teachers looking for Caribbean children's books on specific themes and subjects, and while I try my best, often there just aren't enough (or any) books to recommend within a specific topic area.

Recently I was doodling in a notepad and found myself making a wish list of themes we really need to see more of in Caribbean children's lit. I share the list below; it could certainly be useful for publishers (and writers too perhaps) who want to publish children's books featuring Caribbean people and settings.

In traditional publishing, Caribbean children's books are often marketed as "multicultural literature" which tends to limit the scope of topics to the "Four F's"- folklore, foods, festivals and fashion. It would be great if publishers could focus on a new set of "Fs" when they're choosing which Caribbean children's stories to publish: fun, family, faith, friendship, funny. Centering these themes would help normalize Caribbean children and people, and the books would absolutely be just as Caribbean.

I'm not saying that we completely throw out "Four F's" books (we need a wider range of "Festival" books for example; it's still hard to find a children's book about Caribbean people celebrating Divali or Holi) or books that make a point of celebrating diversity in favor of what Betsy Bird called "casual diversity". That would be problematic too. I'm definitely not saying that Caribbean children's books should somehow be culture-free (if that were even possible; if a writer's culture didn't automatically show up in their writing I'd question whether or not they were truly inhabiting their work). Quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that it's time to expand the range of culturally authentic literature that's available so that Caribbean children can see themselves, and their interests and concerns, humanely reflected in a range of narratives.

In Caribbean children's literature, we don't see nearly enough of, and could definitely do with more...

1) Books with fostering and adoption themes
2) Biographies of important Caribbean figures (Picturebook and longer formats)
3) Books with male characters (Dads/uncles/grandfathers anyone?)
4) Books set in urban and suburban areas (Because ya know, we have cities and towns in the Caribbean too.)
5) Historical fiction (The ancient Caribbean anyone?)
6) Speculative fiction (Fantasy, sci-fi etc.)
7) Bedtime books
8) Alphabet and counting books
9) Board books (There are only a handful.)
10) Humor (This is children's lit. after all!)
11) Books about first-experiences (First day of school, first doctor's visit etc.)
12) Poetry
13) Books about emotions
14) Anthropomorphic characters (Caribbean-endemic animals specifically)
15) Science and social studies books/Nonfiction in general
16) Books that explore disability and illness (There are hardly any.)
17) Books about nature (Beyond tired "Caribbean sun, sea and sand" tropes)
18) Subject-interest books (Books about music, hobbies, art, sports, buildings, etc.)
19) Graphic novels
20) Interactive books
21) Books with religious themes
22) Books with social justice themes
23) Books about communities and neighborhoods
24) Books about bullying (A rampant problem in many Caribbean schools)
25) Books with LGBTQ characters
26) Books about bereavement
27) Books exploring mental health issues
28) Books about gender and gender equality
29) Mixed race representation
30) Books about divorce and family conflict
31) Books about environmental issues and taking care of the environment
32) Books about children or people who are "different"
33) Concept books
34) Books about children using their imagination
35) Books about Caribbean children doing wonderful, inspiring things and saving the day
36) Books about playtime and games
37) Protagonists and characters who aren't Afro-Caribbean (There are Indo-, Chinese, White, Syrian etc. Caribbean people too.)
38) Protagonists and characters who are middle-class and upper-class

Should anything else be added to this list? Leave a comment below.

About the Author

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

September 2017— Special Issue: Love

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Beautiful original cover art by Children's Book Choice Award winner Alix Delinois, from Eight Days a Story of Haiti.


• Hopefully Ever After: What Love Means to Young Readers by Margarita Engle, the 2017-2019 USA Young People's Poet Laureate

• Caribbean Children's Literature: Where's the Love?: A Note from the Editor-in-Chief by Summer Edward


• Excerpt from in-progress YA novel, Man Up, by Trish Cooke, Kate Greenaway Medal Commended author of So Much

• Excerpt from Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, Américas Award Commended author of The Jumbies


• Our Cook and Natural Dancing Partners: Two Poems from the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) shortlisted book Dancing in the Rain by John Lyons


• Publishing as A Labour of Love: An Interview with Verna Wilkins, the UK's Doyenne of Multicultural Children's Publishing by Summer Edward

• Picturebook Love: 5 Caribbean Children's Authors on Helping Kids Choose Love Through Stories by Anika Denise, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Lulu Delacre, Olive Senior and Matt Tavares

• Angela Walcott reviews Greetings, Leroy by Itah Sadu and Alix Delinois

• Dr. Carmen Milagros-Torres reviews The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


• Spotlight on The Carnival Prince by Featured Illustrator, Daniel O'Brien

• Spotlight on Greetings, Leroy and Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Featured Illustrator, Alix Delinois

Guests from Around the World

• Tinine and Tanana (fiction) by Hadiza Mohammed

House Notes

• Literary Laurels: A Round-up of Recent Accomplishments by Anansesem Alum

• Write for Us: Call for Submissions

[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 D ancing in the Rain , a colle...