Writer Shoutout, Diversity Discussion

author books

Passing on this new book announcement from Guyanese-Canadian author Yolanda T. Marshall which I came across in the Caribbean Writers Facebook Group (N.B. new book shares, especially of non-Antiguan-Barbudan books, is not a regular service as this site is completely voluntary and subject to blogger’s time and the blog’s purpose, but, as with everything, there are exceptions). The book is Sweet Sorrell Stand. I’m not a big sorrel drinker but it is a quintessentially Caribbean drink and the eye-catching image of Caribbean children with a sorrel stand – not a lemonade stand – up North delighted me, and when I visited her page, the image of black Santa with the Caribbean black cake (not cookies) also tickled me. Sorrel typically being a Christmas drink, she takes a bit of creative license marketing it as a summertime beat-the-heat option. But, hey, why not.

Since I started writing my own picture books – actually before that, since I’ve been reading to children – I have become keenly aware of the diversity deficit in children’s publishing. I was aware of it before, of course, but it became more of a conscious concern as I read to my nieces and nephews, to children of the Cushion Club, to children in schools to which I was invited; this awareness, and the need to have something of my own to read, prompted me to try my hand at adding writing for children to my oeuvre. There are many shades to this problem but Marshall’s books address two of them at least – the need for black children to see themselves (racial) and the need for Caribbean children to see themselves (cultural), and of course in terms of larger western (let’s stick with western) culture, it also has the potential to push back on assumptions, like of course, Santa is white, duh, or the right of little black kids to be as entrepreneurial as little white kids with their lemonade stands, even if they’re selling bottled water to help out their mom and go to Disney, without having the police called on them or the threat of same for lack of a permit (i.e. white neighbor is inconvenienced).

I mention the need for openness because I’m still reflecting on a post I saw recently in an online book group I belong to in which this group member declared that she was giving up on a particular book not because it was badly written but because African books by African authors were too African for her; and it hit me funny as a Caribbean author writing Caribbean books and as a Caribbean reader who grew up reading primarily American and British books because for most of us growing up in the Caribbean that’s what was available and accessible, without the benefit of the “dictionary” she said was lacking with this African book that had committed the crime of being African (note: the book is clearly written in English otherwise she wouldn’t have bought it so it’s not a matter, I don’t think, of trying to read a foreign language book so much as a book with elements that are foreign to you – as I and others like me had to because it’s a privilege to have such ready access to yourself on the page). Commenters seemed to agree with her but I can’t help thinking that it would do us all better to challenge ourselves to step in to the world of whatever we see as other, even if we stumble a bit more over unfamiliar places, things, and here and there words we don’t know. It would make us more empathetic, I think, in the long run, less likely to call police or threaten to call police on a little black girl selling water.

About the book: Miss Marshall’s latest release is “Sweet Sorrel Stand”. In this children’s book, Rose and Nicolas loved their favourite Caribbean sorrel drink so much, the siblings decided to create a sorrel stand with the assistance of their parents. Their Sweet Sorrel Stand was a success in the neighbourhood. The main ingredient of the drink is the Roselle plant (Sorrel), a species of hibiscus which is native to West Africa. The red flower buds are boiled, strained, sweetened with sugar, with a touch of ginger, cinnamon, orange peel and cloves. Once cooled for a couple of hours or overnight, it is served with ice. It is known to be very rich in antioxidants. Traditionally, this drink is served during Christmas holidays. On a hot summer day, it is a refreshing alternative to lemonade.

To read more about Marshall’s books, visit her page – I’ve also added her to the Caribbean Writers online page here on the blog.

To check out children’s picture books by authors right here in Antigua and Barbuda, here’s where you go.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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