Thursday, September 25, 2014

A View of the Sea- Short Story Now Online

My short story "A View of the Sea" can now be read online through the EBSCOhost Connection online reference system. It was published in print in the October 2011 issue of Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, but was only made available online this year.

"A View of the Sea", which is a story for adults, follows the intrigues of a Trinidadian housemaid desperate to escape her circumstances. The story is set in Trinidad's upscale Westmoorings district. If you are affiliated with a library, university, school, or other institution subscribing to EBSCOhost databases, you may have instant access to the story.

Click here to access "A View of the Sea" online.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grannie's Coal Pot: Final Art


Final art: The fruit of my labors

Today was an exciting day.

I submitted the final artwork for the children's literature anthology project I'm working on. If you read my blog regularly you already know I'm working on my first illustration project and have been blogging about the process from initial thumbnails to final art.

I said I wouldn't share the final art here on the blog, but I can't resist sharing now that it's done. I'm doing a single-page spread illustration to be published alongside a children's poem titled 'Grannie's Coal Pot' that I wrote. I'll let the poem be the element of surprise for those who buy the anthology when it's published. The publisher, Reflection Press may actually recommend changes to the illustration even at this stage of the process, or the Creative Director might tweak some aspects of the illustration during the process of designing the book, so what you see here is likely not really the final art. 

The illustrations you see here are not perfect in the sense of being examples of first-rate illustration skills. But they are perfect in the sense that working on this art has brought me so much joy and healed a lot of the doubts I had about my creativity.

I love them because for me they represent a piece of my world, my culture, and my heart really, that will be shared with children through the pages of a book. To know that a Caribbean boy and his grandmother embracing in front of bubbling pot of Trinidadian oil down has found a place in children's literature makes me very happy. This art represents an affirmation that I belong and I hope it helps others to know that they belong too.

Another version. I couldn't get the faces this nice dark brown color in the other versions.

The illustrations are not exactly what I envisioned when I set out to do this, but rather, they are what emerged organically as I let go of judgements of the art I was making and allowed the process guide me. That was not always easy to do. The process was not perfect. I stumbled a lot along the way. I procrastinated and got discouraged. I missed deadlines. And as a Photoshop novice I often just couldn't get Photoshop to do what I wanted it to do. Yes, I used Photoshop. I also feel like the colors are somewhat off but that's what the Creative Director at a publishing house is for, to fix those details.

This project is an offshoot of the "Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that Matter" course I took through the School of the Free Mind earlier this year. When I enrolled in the course six months ago, I did not know I could create an illustration like this. I went into the Heart of It course with no artistic training. I'd been a lifelong doodler and longtime illustration buff, but that was as far as it went. I especially didn't know how to draw faces and hands, which is to say I hadn't yet discovered my way of drawing faces and hands.

Drawing is really an art of seeing connected to a sense of knowing in the hands, and I didn't have that six months ago. I had no ability to see lines and shapes and I did not have trusting hands as an artist. That happened almost magically during this course. I used to hear people say "everyone is an artist" and I would wistfully think, "I wish." Now I really believe it. If I could get through this process and discover the artist in myself, then anyone can.

Going through this process of creating an illustration from initial thumbnails to final art has given me a lot of insight into what can happen when people have somebody in their court who believes in them. Maya Gonzalez and her publishing house Reflection Press have embraced a "mentorship publisher" approach to working with underrepresented children's writers and illustrators that helped me feel supported throughout the process.

As I understand it, mentorship publishing is simply the idea that the publisher does not simply recruit and publish the talent, but rather, the publisher actively develops the talent by providing training, professional development, scholarship funding in some cases, and emotional support to writers and illustrators. It's about developing a relationship with the talent and building community through and alongside the creative process.

This is what working with Reflection Press has been like. We have a Facebook group where everyone involved in the anthology has been posting photos of their art-in-progress and providing tons of emotional support to others in the community. We were provided with professional development and we have an experienced and qualified mentor-editor who uses a personal touch in the way she approaches feedback and instruction. The only reason I was able to do the course and subsequently end up working on this project is because the School of the Free Mind provided me with scholarship funding. People who paid to take the course have unanimously agreed that the returns have far succeeded the investment.

I believe the mentorship publisher model is especially relevant for so-called "minority" communities who have long struggled to break into the traditional publishing world, including us in the Caribbean. People who have long had the doors of opportunity barred to them need a different kind of environment in order to thrive creatively. The need community and understanding, and they need practical support. Dare I say, they need a different set of standards. The standards of the traditional publishing world do not take into account the realities and histories of underrepresented communities.

Right now, Ananssem, the Caribbean children's literature ezine that I run is on hiatus until 2015. Part of the reason I'm letting Anansesem sit for a while is because I'd been feeling strongly that the ezine needs a new approach. We've always struggled with a low volume of submissions. I know it's not the interface itself because we've received so many compliments on the format and presentation of the site. I know people appreciate the existence of the site, because we've also gotten tons of positive feedback about that.

Someone I talked to about the issue suggested that it could be a cultural thing, that Caribbean parents simply aren't warm to the idea of putting their children's writing and art on the Internet. I wonder if there is something to that. Another person told me somewhat bitterly that Caribbean people are apathetic, but I refuse to believe that. I'm starting to see now how a mentorship approach might be what is needed for Anansesem's future.

Right now though, I'm waiting for feedback on the final art. And I'm dreaming about possibilities for us all. Please help us spread the word about the "Heart of It" anthology by sharing this beautiful flyer, thanks!


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Children's Literature for Peace

Art by Eric Carle

This weekend, people all over the world are taking a stand for peace in recognition of the United Nations International Day of Peace tomorrow. Today, my heart is heavy at the spate of recent events creating turmoil in our world even as I draw inspiration and strength from all the calls and demonstrations for peace taking place around the globe as we speak.

Earlier this year, a friend gifted me with a copy of the book Teaching Young Children in Violent Times: Building a Peaceable Classroom by Diane E. Levin, Ph.D. Although I hadn't said anything to her, I was very troubled at the time by the mass shootings happening here in the States. I was thinking a lot about how to empower children to be peaceworkers. When she gave me that book it was just what I needed. If you are an educator working with children in a classroom setting or otherwise, I recommend Levin's book. Sadly, these kinds of resources are needed more today than ever.

As Alivn F. Poussaint, a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston has stated, "children cannot be sheltered from the realities of violence in the community or through the media." How do we help our children cope with their fears in a world where images of the children killed and injured in the Israel-Palestine conflict can easily reach them through the Internet or television?

How do we help our children fight off the hopelessness that events such as the recent shooting of Michael Brown, the African-American teen who was gunned down by police in Ferguson, Missouri engenders? And violence is a Caribbean reality too. Today in Haiti, more than 300,000 children are victims of the domestic child slavery restavek system, suffering violence and abuse at the hands of their so-called "hosts".  In Jamaica, scores of LGBTQ youth are coping with violent backlashes even as local activists try to battle discriminatory laws and effect societal change.

Sometimes we feel helpless when it comes to working for peace. I know I've often felt that way. But the thing to understand is that half of the sorrow we feel is the sorrow of our own apathy. Peace can and does come through prayer, but prayer alone cannot engender change. As the Dalai Lama himself has noted, "peace does not come through prayer, we human beings must create peace."

I belong to the community of educators and people working in children's publishing and these are the people who mainly read this blog. Ours is a community powerfully positioned to create peace by shaping the minds and strengthening the resilience of the children who will grow up to be the future generation. Children's literature itself, far from being a frivolous societal diversion, can be a cornerstone for creating a peaceful world, but only if we can manage to succeed in reinvisioning the children's publishing industry to harness this great potential.

What does reinvisioning the children's publishing industry as a vehicle for peace mean?

It means that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign gathering momentum here in the States is worth taking seriously. Because even as African-American youth are being physically annihilated by a discriminatory police force, they are being symbolically annihilated just as brutally by a children's publishing industry that year after year manages to ensure that children's books written by and about African-Americans, and other non-Caucasian communities, are given short shrift in every way possible, from the often careless packaging and book design, to narrow narratives, to the abysmally low quantity of such books published yearly. Diverse children's books which reflect the humanity of ALL racial, ethnic and thought communities will go a long way in healing our vision of what is means to live emphatically and cooperatively in a truly equal world.

It means each and every person claiming membership in the children's publishing industry must search their souls for a sense of purpose. How is what you are doing as a children's editor, as a children's author, as a children's author-to-be, as a picturebook artist, as a children's book literary agent, as a children's book blogger, as a children's librarian contributing to creating a peaceful world?

You might read that and say, well, peace activism is not the reason I got into children's publishing, or social justice literature is not what I do as a children's writer. Yet is there anything more important than creating a peaceful world for our children? If you're not here on earth to be a vehicle for peace, to add your voice, your energy and your talents to the task of creating a better world, then what are you here on earth for? Is social justice an elite weapon to be wielded in the hands of a few acclaimed activists or is it a human imperative to which each individual is called? These are serious questions for each and every human being.

Hanna Holborn Gray, the influential and pioneering Yale University educator once said that "education is not meant to be comfortable; it is meant to provoke, to stretch, to enrich while complicating, in short, it is meant to lift trouble to a higher plane of regard." Reinvisioning children's literature for peace means lifting children's literature and the role it plays in society to a "higher plane of regard" to borrow Gray's turn of phrase.

And that does not mean children's literature suddenly becomes this "serious" thing that is too heavy for children. What it means is that we start to accept that children are not comfortable and how can we expect them to be in the type of violent world we live in? If you don't believe me when I say children are deeply discomfited by the state of the world, then you might believe the late great Maurice Sendak, the prolific and beloved American children's author who two decades ago offered these wise words in the 1994 UNICEF publication I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia: 


"The children know. They have always known. But we choose to think otherwise: it hurts to know the children know. If we obfuscate, they will not see. Thus we conspire to keep them from knowing and seeing. And if we insist, then the children, to please us, will make believe they do not know, they do not see. They are remarkable–patient, loving, and all-forgiving. It is a sad comedy: the children knowing and pretending they don’t know to protect us from knowing they know."


Rather than ignoring or denying what children already know, children's literature must help children engage with the ugly realities of life and learn ways to deal with them. We must create this kind of children's literature as a sign of respect and love for our children, for ALL our children, not just the priveleged few. My challenge to the children's publishing industry is please, let us get real, with ourselves and with the children we're creating books for. Life isn't all sunshine and meadows and talking bears. Children feel this, they experience this, they know this. So let us refrain from burdening children with the type of desperate adult denial that serves only ourselves, not them.

One simple but powerful way to start creating peace through children's literature is to share and use the resources that help us work for peace and solve problems peacefully. I've already shared Levine's groundbreaking book. Here are some other helpful resources:

Kid Lit EQUALITY

Started by a mentor of mine, Maya Gonzalez and fellow kid lit blogger Zetta Elliott, this movement asks children’s book authors and artists, publishers and editors, educators and activists to stand up and speak out about the ways our community serves, or could better serve, marginalized youth who are under- and/or misrepresented in children’s literature with the intention of creating a world of equality.

Teaching for Change/teachingforchange.org

Teaching for Change provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world. By drawing direct connections to real world issues, Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens.

Teach Peace Now

A blog about teaching peace. Each post discusses a way to make the world a more peaceful place or introduces a person who represents a peace educator or features an event that celebrates peace. The blog is linked to TeachPeaceNow.org which provides books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.

Children's Books About Peace and Social Justice

Lists of children's books addressing themes of peace, conflict and social justice compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, the Jane Addams Peace Association, Teaching and Learning for Peace and Kidsbooks bookstore.

World Peace Game Foundation

Award-winning teacher and high-profile public speaker John Hunter offers insights into conflict resolution and collective problem-solving gleaned from his many years teaching kids through the "World Peace Game," an innovative global systems simulation he created. The Foundation seeks to foster the concept of peace not as a utopian dream but as an attainable goal to strive for, and to stimulate the creative development of tools for this effort. It supports development of collaboration and communication skills for resolving and transforming conflicts, and the development of the skills of compromise, all while accommodating different perspectives and interests.


***

We need peace and peaceworkers everywhere, in every community, in every field, confronting and challenging every manifestation of violence, whether it is physical or symbolic violence. In the children's publishing world, this means we need books that help children cope with the WIDE variety of troubling issues and conflicts that plague our world, books that give children the kaleidoscopic view of peace, not just peace for certain people and communities, but peace as a right and an imperative for everyone, for all humanity. And we need people in children's publishing committed to seeing and harnessing the potential of children's literature for peace.

We walk around wondering why we feel dissatisfied with life, why we feel sad for no reason sometimes, why ouwork, our possessions, our diversions don't fulfill us. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," the poet Henry Thoreau accurately observed. The paradigm shift happens when we understand that the bouts of inanition we feel in life, the creative stasis that we often fall into in our careers, comes from succumbing to apathy and denial about our unique role in contributing to the human endeavor, which is essentially the endeavor to create the kind of reality we all long for, to create a world which reflects the way things should be.

Each and every individual has within them a unique gift or creative force which can be harnessed for good and for positive change. And the force for good longs to be expressed through each and every one of us. I know this is true for the storytellers, artists, dreamers and literary minds that make up the children's publishing community. It is up to each of us to take our gift and lift it to a higher plane so that what we do through our work in the children's literature field makes life worth living, both for us and for our human family.

I hope you will share these resources. Pray for peace yes, but also work for peace.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Children's Literature Web: Books to Discuss Spirituality and Religion with Kids

I made this children's literature web a few years ago for my own personal use. Now I've realized it would be a good resource to share with others. The web lists gentle, engaging children's books that can be used to help children appreciate their spirituality, as well as learn about the world's religions. It also provides supplementary learning activities: literacy-rich, fun activities that kids can do to enrich and extend their reading of the texts. The web is suitable for use by parents and educators alike.

Please send me email me if you'd like to receive a printable .pdf of the web. The .pdf can be purchased for just US $5.00.


Sub-topics include: 


Spirituality: Celebrating Nature & Humankind
Prayer
The Nature of God
Spirituality and the Child
Religious Figures/Leaders
Creation Stories
Religious Holidays
Religious Folkore
Religious Symbols and Objects
Religion and Morality



A NOTE TO EDUCATORS

It is not always permissible to explore issues of religion and spirituality with children in educational settings. This web was designed for use in settings where the exploration of such topics is permissible. Issues of religion, spirituality and morality can be sensitive topics and this web is not a value-free resource; it allows for a pluralistic exploration of religion and spirituality and advocates generally for the importance of cultivating the spiritual lives of children. You should consult with your principal, supervisor and parents before using this web and the books herein with your students. Educators are advised to examine the books listed here closely before using them with children.



There are a number of helpful non-denominational resources available to assist you as you explore religion and spirituality with children. Some of these include:



Curriculum of Love: Cultivating the Spiritual Nature of Children (Daleo)
Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms (Wolf)
• Grappling With the Good: Talking About Religion and Morality in Public Schools (Kunzman)
Understanding World Religions in Early Years Practice (Lindon)
Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World’s Religious Traditions (Johnson)
Nurturing a Gentle Heart: Exploring Spirituality with Pre-schoolers (Hobby)
The Spiritual Needs of Children: A Guide for Nurses, Parents and Teachers (Shelly)
• Caring for the Whole Child: A Holistic Approach to Spirituality (Bradford & Bowis)
Children’s Spirituality-Teachers’ Perspectives: Nurturing Children's Spirituality in the Classroom 



Monday, August 25, 2014

Publishing with Heart: An Exciting New Children's Anthology from Reflection Press

Click image to magnify

I've been blogging about my first illustration project, a poem I wrote called "Grannie's Coal Pot" that I'm illustrating to appear in an international anthology of writing and art for children.

I'm happy to be able to share a little more about this anthology. The anthology (title pending) grew out of the dynamic and powerful online course, "The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books That Matter" that I took with The School of the Free Mind earlier this year. It will be published by visionary Indie publisher Reflection Press and promises to be a wonderful and meaningful treasure for sharing with children and with our diverse communities.

All of us contributing to the anthology are graduates of the course and we all have a heart for sharing stories and art with children that support and affirm a conscious, inclusive, socially aware vision of the world. We are about reclaiming and building a heritage of storytelling that respects and values children, multiculturalism, first voices, nature, gender diversity and the magic of the human heart. We are being guided on our Heartful publishing journey by Maya Gonzalez, our course instructor, Editor, and Heartful award-winning author-artist. I can vouch for both the heart and talent of the author-artists whose voices and art will commune on the pages of this book.

Please help us spread the word about this revolutionary anthology (How is it revolutionary? Read this post over on the School of the Free Mind's blog to find out) by sharing the beautiful flyer above.

And in case you're wondering about the "Heart of It" course, it runs again this October and you can find out more information about it and how to register here.