Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Donna Marie Seim, Cross-Cultural Children's Writer (Part II of Interview)

We're back for day two of a two-part interview with Donna Marie Seim, author of Simon, Where is Sandy? and Hurricane Mia! : A Caribbean Adventure. When I learned about Donna and her books, one of the things that really interested me was Donna's strong connection to and love for the Turks and Caicos islands and its people, and what seemed to be her dual sense of belonging as an American writer of Caribbean children's books. Here is Donna again, answering my questions.

You dedicated Where is Simon, Sandy? to the children of The Turks and Caicos Islands and all proceeds from Hurricane Mia! are being donated to the Children’s Programme of the Turks and Caicos National Museum. The T&C National Museum was also instrumental in helping you publish your book. How did your connection to the Museum and to the children of the Turks and Caicos come about?

First I have to make a correction. Hurricane Mia is not donating all profits to the Children’s Programme. We will be donating the proceeds from the launch at the museum and special fund raising events for the museum but it is not in the same category as Where is Simon, Sandy?. WISS, as we affectionately call the book, is owned by the museum. All proceeds from any sales go directly to the museum for the Children’s Programme. The book is the major supporter of the summer camp and the special programs for the children through out the year.

Donna and her friends at a school in Salt Cay, T&C
My husband and I have always been supporters and members of the T&C National Museum. I sent the story to them because I liked their children’s programme, and felt that they in some way would help to preserve this sweet folk tale that belonged to the island. The museum responded within hours of my sending the story to them and they expressed their wish to make it into a real book!  But it is more than a book, it is a project with many people working hard to make it become the award-winning book that it is. I deeded all my royalties to the Children’s Programme because I felt it would do a great good. The museum needed the money to keep the programme going and the children would only benefit. As a former, teacher, childcare worker and toy storeowner, I have always loved children and the children on these islands are most dear to me.

It has been my pleasure to work with Mr. David Bowen, Cultural Director of the Turks and Caicos Islands. We visited all schools and libraries on each of the six islands with primary schools to read and donate the book, Where is Simon, Sandy?

Have you marketed your books to children in America? How would you like American children to view your books?

Yes, both books, Hurricane Mia! and Where is Simon, Sandy? have been marketed in the United States. And they have both have been received very well. When I visit classrooms with Where is Simon, Sandy?, the children have great interest both in the story and that it is from the Caribbean. We then discuss where these islands are located geographically. Some children have been to different islands and we talk about where they have been and what it was like, how it was different than a vacation in, Florida. I bring along a slide show and the children love to hear about donkeys roaming free and wild horses that trot past your gate.  They are very interested in the children in the photos. We talk about different kinds of food they eat and what the children wear to school and how they wear their hair.

Donna at the Providenciales Primary School in Providenciales, T&C
We have a pen pal program set up with a school in Providenciales, T&C Islands, and a classroom in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The children write about their pets, draw pictures of themselves, talk about what sports they play and what their favorite foods are. It is a fabulous way for the children in the States to learn about another culture, and a place in the world that is different from where they live, widening their horizons. I think both sides benefit from the letters making their life richer and gaining more understanding of this amazing world we live in.

It is still early to answer directly about Hurricane Mia, except the reviews coming in from Stateside readers are very strong. Many have written that they feel as if the story has carried them to the islands of the Caribbean, and it makes them long to go there. It has been said that if you can transport your reader to another place you have achieved a great accomplishment. My favorite part of reading as a child and now as an adult, is to be completely swept away to another place and time and be totally caught up in a really great story.

Currently, Where is Simon, Sandy? and Hurricane Mia! A Caribbean Adventure are available online and in select bookstores in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I’m sure children in other Caribbean islands would enjoy reading the books as well. Are there any plans to make the books more widely available throughout the Caribbean?

Another good question! Distribution is the hardest part of selling to the islands. My publisher is a small publisher and does not have sales reps that far reaching. I have been the major sales force and have worked hard to establish the accounts that we do have. I am currently working on a wider distribution plan, and hopefully we will make more progress in expanding to more islands soon.

Donna marketing her books at the Salt Museum, Grand Turk, T&C

Donna, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. I wish you all the best with your exciting projects and adventures!

Thanks so much Summer, your questions were great, and it was my pleasure!

Detail from Simon, Where is Sandy? illustrated by Susan Spellman

Summer Edward is a Children's Literature and Publishing Consultant. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and is the recipient of a Highlights Foundation Scholarship for promising children's writers and the School of the Free Mind's inaugural Way of the Book Honor Award given to artist-authors demonstrating long and sincere commitment to changing the world through children's books. Learn more about her here .


Carol Mitchell

Hi Donna, Congratulations on the book. I noted that your publisher is based in the US and I wondered how difficult it was to find a publisher that would take the leap to produce a book based in the Caribbean, given that the appeal in the US might be limited?


Hi Carol, I am sorry, I just saw your question! Finding a publisher for, "Where is Simon, Sandy?" was not so difficult because I was backed by the Turks and Caicos National Museum. So, they knew from the beginning that I had a strong link to the Turks and Caicos Islands where the story is from. I will admit that it sells the strongest in the Turks and Caicos,but we have done a good job of selling in the States as well. The publisher immediately embraced it as a folktale, timeless in nature, and translating as an excellent sell to libraries. They also saw the appeal of its universal truths, and so they believed, correctly, that it was not
limited to any one geographical area. Also, the fact that it was a true story never written down was in its favor. Last, but not least, the children saving the day with the help of their beloved Sandy reaches out to everyone. I guess you could call it both children and donkey appeal. They explained all of this to me in the very beginning, when they accepted the story, and all of it has proven to be true.
I must also add that I have worked the book, doing readings, signings, going to schools, libraries and setting up pen pal clubs between the islands and the States. All things considered, I was lucky and in the right place, with strong backing from the Islands. If I did not have all that, I think getting my novel,"Hurrricane Mia", published would have been much more difficult! Your basic premise is correct, it is hard to get a Caribbean story published in the States. I have also learned it is hard to get anything published in the States! I hope this answers your question.
Best, Donna Seim

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