Tag Archives: Caribbean environmental issues

New Caribbean Children’s Books

Last September, we reported that Harper Collins in the UK was preparing to roll our a series of #ownvoices Caribbean written and illustrated titles as part of its Big Cat series of children’s book.

Those titles are out now; so an update seems timely. Especially as I and the illustrator of my title (The Jungle Outside) Danielle Boodoo-Fortune are planning a live to discuss our collaboration and creative journeys. Hope to see you there.

In the order of (scheduled) release, one of the earliest books to drop was a non-fiction book Sea Turtles which presents, in a visual and child-friendly way, the life cycle, habits, and habitats of different types of sea turtles – with specific reference to Caribbean environmental issues. Each pdf in this post provides book details from the publisher.

The author of Sea Turtles is Carol Mitchell, a Kittitian-Nevisian writer and publisher in her own right (as owner of the independent press Caribbean Reads Publishing, whose publications include Musical Youth and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure).

Diana McCaulay of Jamaica, formerly of the Jamaica Environmental Trust, chose the aquatic world for her story about Finny the Fairy Fish, an Ugly Duckling-esque tale set in a Caribbean coral reef.

McCaulay has won critical acclaim and awards for a number of teen/young adult and adult books, the most recent of which is the Burt Award winning Daylight Come set in a dystopian future Caribbean.

The Jungle Outside by Joanne C. Hillhouse (that’s me) is a book inspired by my mother and my nephew and their interactions when he was younger, which extolls the virtues of exploration and discovery, and overcoming one’s fears in order to taste the fruits of life.

As noted above, the illustrator and I are planning a Live on my YouTube channel. Don’t leave us on there alone. Come through.

Turtle Beach by Barbara Arrindell, with fellow Antiguan-Barbudan illustrator Zavian Archibald, is another environmentally themed, beach-set book, this one set in the real world and inspired by real life.

“It has come to my attention that while children are more aware of environmental issues they are also more burdened, more fatalistic, about it all (this awareness is of course anecdotal but I’ve come across articles pointing to the anxiety climate change awareness has stirred in Generation Z and Z minus). A book like this gives them agency and a sense of hope; a reinforcement that nature knows its course, they can help, and there is a down the road. And that’s good because that’s the energy we need to fight these battles.” (from this review)

That Imam Baksh’s The Lost Sketch Book has one of the more interesting premises is no surprise given that the award winning Guyanese writer made his name as the author of teen/young adult fantasy (Children of the Spider, The Dark of the Sea – both Burt Award winning titles). In this, his first children’s picture book, the titular book can bring images to life.

Desryn Collins is literary arts curriculum officer in Antigua-Barbuda, and originally from Guyana. Her turn to authorship, How to become a Calypsonian, is a book on (arguably) the official music of the Caribbean.

While junior calypso competitions are common in Carnival countries, we believe this breakdown in picture book form of how to become a calypsonian may be a first.

The Wonder of the World Leaf is the first book by Summer Edward, who has been one of the most consistent advocates for Caribbean children’s literature through her Anansesem journal for Caribbean children’s literature and her related consulting services. It is about a connection between grandmother and child, Wygenia, and a quest for a healing herb in the author’s native Trinidad.

What I would encourage you reading this to do, if you believe at all that there is a need for people to read more diversely, if you want to boost Caribbean stories, if you want to help these and other books in that lane find new readers, is share them. This can mean buying them. It can mean passing them on to another reader. It can mean mentioning one or more of them on your social media (plural). It can mean writing a short review on one of the places online (goodreads, amazon etc.) that accommodate reader reviews. The publishing marketplace is crowded, the reader has enormous power to help books they love stand out from the crowd.

As with all content (words, images, other) 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,  Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and The Jungle Outside). All Rights Reserved. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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Reflecting on Gone to Drift & our Caribbean environment

As I neared the end of Gone to Drift, the tug of war between the politics of development and protection of the environment was trending in my own country, Antigua. According to reports from a watchdog group, destruction of mangroves was already in play at the site of a government-sanctioned resort development project. Round two or three for this particular bit of land and sea (which had drawn developer interest and watchdog protests since at least the mid-90s).


Image pulled from site of mangroveactionproject.org (petitioning in 2015 against the destruction of the mangroves)


Image of recent activity at the development site posted to the facebook page of activist group, the Movement (facebook.com/theMovement268)

Once again, we were at the intersection of “jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and environmental stewardship. It’s a fault line running up and down our Caribbean, blessed with a beauty that draws people from all over the world to us, which makes tourism everybody’s business and anything that gets in the way of that a liability. What do mangroves do anyway? Only act as a buffer zone between land and sea, a shield during storms and such, protect our coastline from erosion, purify both the water and the air by absorbing impurities and pollutants, act as a breeding ground and nursery for marine life, and a harbor for not only fish, but amphibians, reptiles, birds, and some mammals, with proven importance to our fisheries sector as we need mangroves to play their role in the replenishment of fishstock and maintaining the sea’s all too rapidly disappearing biodiversity. Mangroves are also part of the tourism product as a locale for eco-tourism adventures such as kayaking (which I’ve been fortunate enough to do through mangroves at least twice in my landlubbing life). But, yeah, mangroves, who needs them. The irony is the very things we are so quick to uproot and destroy in the name of tourism are the very things which add to our appeal as a tourist destination. And that’s what was on my mind as the tension ramped up in Gone to Drift – a young boy racing against the clock to save his grandfather, a fisherman who had run afoul of dolphin poachers.

“His grandfather said Kingston Harbour had once been full of them, that no night’s fishing would have passed without seeing the shining mystery. ‘Where they go, Gramps?’ the boy had asked.

‘Sea too dirty for them.’

‘Why the sea get dirty?’

His grandfather had grunted. He was a man of the sea, not a man of words. Now Lloyd was sure he was lost at sea.”

The author of the book is Diana McCaulay who, when she’s not busy being an acclaimed Jamaican author, is racing a clock of her own; raising her voice against the short-sighted-ness of destroying the environment indiscriminately in the interest of “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” (McCaulay is founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environmental Trust)

Locating her story in the world of the poorest of the poor, she shows an awareness of the realities that would drive men and women to this short-sighted-ness.

Speaking to the environmentalist who was helping him track down his grandfather and who was also trying to save the dolphins, Gone to Drift’s young and highly sympathetic protagonist Lloydie (the boy) asked:

“Why you trying to stop it?”

As much as his grandfather had taught him about the need to protect the seas which gave them life, he still had the practicality that environmentalists often run up against – now for now, later for later, man mus’ lib.

He mused, “…dolphins should be left in the sea where they belonged” sure…  “but if the tourist places needed dolphins, they had to come from somewhere. And if money was to be made from capturing dolphins, there were a lot of them in the sea and many poor people would get some money.”

And that’s where we often find ourselves, and that’s what politicians have become so deft at manipulating (beats visioning a path to development that also factors in sustaining the environment).

So it’s hard not to think of these things as I read Gone to Drift, hard not to empathize with how overwhelmed Lloydie feels as forces bigger than himself align against him because in that sense he is the small man standing in path of the backhoe making a beeline for its latest environmental target and he is also the man behind the controls of the back hoe who has a family to feed, both pawns to the machinations of forces bigger than them, and the environment hangs in the balance. And the security guards who look like both will hustle hard when the walls are up to keep them both out – as the security guards at the hotel Lloyd tries to get in to to speak to the lady who could help and the guard at the hospital which doesn’t typically cater to people like him do in Gone to Drift.

But perhaps I’m projecting and he is just a boy trying to find his grandfather.

Remove the sub-text about the larger environmental issues and you still have a pulse quickening drama, and a poignant social narrative, at the  heart of which is a boy you come to not only root for but love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lloydie managed at least twice to bring tears to my eyes.

“Lloyd wiped his eyes. It was hopeless. He would never know his grandfather’s fate. Perhaps one day the wreckage of his boat would be found, maybe a splintered plank of wood with Water Bird written on it would wash up on the coast. He would never know. There would never be a grave anywhere, perhaps not even a funeral or a nine night. Maybe he would live the rest of his life waiting for Water Bird to round the point at Palisadoes until the span of a human life was finally over. How long would wondering last, how slowly could hope die?”

And this wasn’t even the first time I was reading his story.

See, Gone to Drift was a finalist for the 2015 Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature. A finalist in 2014Musical Youth, I was one of the Burt judges in 2015. I remember really enjoying this story, and reading it again was an odd mix of losing myself in it again and tracking the things that had changed between the time I had read it, in manuscript form, and now that it had been through the rigors of editing and was an actual book. I wondered if the tension wasn’t as tightly strung, or if I just knew too much; but in the end neither mattered because I still felt pulled to turn the pages, to find out what happened, and did it happen in time. And I’m still left at the end with an urge to pull Lloydie into a hug for the uncertainty of the world in which he now finds himself, and curious to find out, what happens next.

“If the boys waded into the sea, within a few steps they would be out of their depth and caught in a tearing current…”

McCaulay is good at what she does. Among her strengths, characterization – as I said Lloydie is as real to me as my own nephews and I feel as protective; and world building. World building, you say, but her story is set in Jamaica, it already exists. It does and it doesn’t. She admits to fictionalizing parts of that world. But even if you think you know that world, what she and all good writers remind us is that there is general knowing and there is specific knowing. And this is a world specifically of men and women of the sea. She had to put us there, then when the grandfather was a boy coming of age in St. Elizabeth and now, the bleaker reality Lloyd lives in in Kingston, where the sea has become a desert and desperate men and women make ill-conceived choices. She draws that world vividly and poignantly and beautifully.

Is Jules a little too good to be true? Maybe. She really does go out of her way to help a boy she barely knows. Are some of the characters’ motivations a bit murky? Yeah, I mean why would someone everyone agrees is mixed up in the badness even give the boy looking for the grandfather who may have fallen victim to that badness the time of day much less his phone number?

But these are minor quibbles in a story that is well paced, well drawn, well characterized and in which the author reminds us that while this is first and foremost about family, the stakes are much, much bigger than one missing man. A whole way of life has slipped away, people have turned on themselves and their own best interest. And what is one little boy in such a world?

The realities are heavy for a young adult book, because the author keeps it real; but, you know what, Lloydie’s journey also reminds us that it’s not your size but your heart that matters.

Well done, McCaulay. A timely read. One teens and young adults of the region will find enjoyable as they piggyback the persistent boy’s adventures – including one notable chapter as a stowaway on a coast guard ship; and one adults – unable to ignore the larger implications – will find revealing, topical, and, perhaps, inspiring.

I suggested earlier that I may be projecting. And I may. But I know this, McCaulay’s writing is not distinct from her advocacy.

“Will stories induce us to act, I wondered?  I am not sure.  But I do know this – stories make us feel, in a way no scientific recitation of facts can accomplish.” She wrote this in one of her posts while serving as a Commonwealth Writer in Residence, and it suggests to me that there is a link, though perhaps not always deliberate, between what she writes and the issues she comes across in her work as an environmental warrior. That is not to say that she writes in a didactic (or even pedantic) fashion, she doesn’t, there is still the organic pull to story, the instincts that drive any creative writer at play. When I interviewed McCaulay shortly after her Commonwealth short story win for the Dolphin Catchers, where we were first introduced to the characters in Gone to Drift, she said of the origin of the story, “an image came to me of a boy sitting on a wall beside Kingston Harbour in the rain.  Nothing else, not why he was there, or who he was.  I sat down to describe this image and the rest of the story kind of came to me.  If I were making this into a novel, I would start writing down things about the main characters, the storyline, possibly an outline of chapters, before just writing.”

As her author notes at the back of Gone to Drift indicate there was a lot of that extra work, including extensive research put in, but, first it was that evocative image that worked to (and succeeded at) pull(ing) us in:

“The boy sat beside the crumbling wall and stared out to sea. It was full dark and rain hissed on the water, but he was sheltered from the downpour where he sat…”


p.s. Diana McCaulay’s Gone to Drift is published by Papillotte Press which presented a copy of the book as a prize for the 2016 cycle of the Wadadli Pen Challenge (a fact that had no bearing on my enthusiastic recommendation of this teen/young adult page turner). It’s a good read. For other good reads (according to me), search for ‘blogger on books’ to your right.

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, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth – fyi in Oh Gad! development v. the traditional use of the land is a one of the plot threads). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). 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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