Welcome back to this week's Blog Roundtable on race and diversity in Caribbean children's literature! Yesterday we heard aspiring Trinbagonian children's author, Rehannah Khan's thoughts on Caribbean multiculturalism and its relevance to Caribbean children's literature. The day before that, Carmen Milagros Torres, an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico discussed race in Puerto Rican children's literature. If you missed either posts, do go back and take a read; very interesting stuff. Today, I'm pleased to welcome back Donna Marie Seim, an American children's author whose work has previously been featured on the blog (Read Seim's bio below to see how her work fits in with Caribbean children's literature.) Without further ado, here is Donna's completed questionnaire and below that is her post.
Your name (first name alone is fine): Donna
The nationality(ies) you identify with: American
Your self-described racial identity: Caucasian
Your experience reading Caribbean children's and/or YA books, either in print or online: 10
*Rate yourself on the following scale of 1 to 10.
Additional comments from Donna: I have read Adult and YA Literature written by both Caribbean and non-Caribbean authors. I have read online and in magazines Caribbean children's literature, mostly featuring Afro-Caribbean characters. I have never read any Caribbean children's literature as required reading.
1 - You haven't read any Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading, but you have read reviews or summaries of such books.
2- At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have NOT read Caribbean children's or YA books outside of required school reading.
3 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
4 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read 1-3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
5 - At some point in time, you have read Caribbean children's or YA books (AT LEAST 1) as part of required reading for school. You have also read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books that were not required school reading.
6 - You have never read a Caribbean children's or YA book as part of required reading for school. You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books.
7 - You review Caribbean children's or YA books (on a blog, website, in a newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal or other media outlet) and have read and reviewed AT LEAST 5 such books.
8 -You have read 0-3 Caribbean children's or YA books, EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
9 - You have read MORE THAN 3 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written (but not published) a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
10 - You have read MORE THAN 1 Caribbean children's or YA books EITHER as part of required school reading OR outside of required school reading. You have written AND published a Caribbean children's or YA book(s.)
Equal Representation in Caribbean Children's Literature
This is not an easy topic to give a short answer. The fact that there is not a lot of available Caribbean literature to be found makes assessing the racial depictions at best a difficult task. I must admit that when I did research for my middle grade reader book (Hurricane Mia: A Caribbean Adventure), it was hard to find much out there. Most books about the Caribbean were about pirates, slavery or chick lit. (Cruises with cute boys etc.) I was told to read, Jamaica Kincaid's, Annie John. This is a Caribbean YA book written by a Caribbean author and I was excited to read it. Looking back, I would say it was definitely in the Afro-Caribbean racial category. I did not find it to be complimentary to the Afro-Caribbean image. I would need to write an entire paper on this subject if I discussed it any further.
In my own book, Hurricane Mia: A Caribbean Adventure, my local or island characters are all Afro-Caribbean with the possible exception of Neisha's mother, Bianca, who could have Latino blood in her (however the only clue I gave was her name, Bianca, which sounds as if it could be Hispanic). I was aware that the majority of locals, or islanders on the islands I have written about, are Afro-Caribbean. The minorities of which there are many, hail from other islands, but they live as islanders and are islanders just as the majority are islanders. There are also many Americans and Europeans who have taken on the islands as their home, or in my case my home away from home; we are in the minority. It is interesting to think about the fact that everyone knows exactly who they are and where they came from even if they live full time on the island. The Belongers (Summer's note: Nationals of the Turks and Caicos islands are called 'Belongers.'), the majority of the people whose descendants came from the slave ships, are all of African descent. Even among the Belongers, there are differences and groupings, such as which island you grew up on and on which section of the island you live.
My humble opinion is simply that the outsiders view the majority people of any country as the primary people. There are minorities and newcomers in most countries in the world, not only the Caribbean countries. When one is in the minority you are most definitely aware of it, despite which country you reside in. I think the same thing goes for literature, the majority will most often be given the role of the main characters, unless an author distinctly designs to write about a minority race within the majority. We can debate the terms multi-cultural verses cross cultural. This is all good food for thought. Maybe we should all be more aware of the fact that every country has more than one culture and people, and that the minorities should be represented in literature in equal portions. I believe it is important for children to see themselves in literature and be able to identify with the descriptive character or the image that the illustrator portrays of them. It is a giant task for Caribbean authors to give fair play to all races and nationalities while at the same time being cautious not to misrepresent the images portrayed. At the same time it is important that the young child be able to view the characters or stories with pride, gaining a feeling of self worth without glorifying or over romanticizing the characters themselves.
***Where is Simon, Sandy? and a chapter book, Hurricane Mia! : A Caribbean Adventure, both set in the Turks and Caicos islands and both illustrated by Susan Spellman. She has also written a memoir, short stories, and Charley!, a soon-to-be-released chapter book. Where is Simon, Sandy? was a recipient of the 2009 Mom's Gold Choice Award (USA) and was also a finalist in the Children's Picture Book category of the 2010 National Indie Excellence Awards (USA.) Seim is a graduate of Ohio State University, and holds a Master's degree in Special Education from Lesley University. Seim owns a home in the Turks and Caicos islands and currently lives in Newbury, Massachusetts, USA with her husband, Martin, and her dog, Rags.