Thursday, June 11th, 2015
2 Children’s Books about Jamaica
By Meera Sriram
“Pon di road” is “on the road” in Jamaican. And Justice, the toddler boy, is on the road in Jamaica with his mom, taking us along with him to the beautiful tropical island that Jamaica is!
We are greeted in the local language when we arrive, and the friendly welcome continues as Justice meets Tony, the mango seller, Nigel with his guitar, Miss Jessie at her café, and Brap with his horse. Justice soon finds himself in front of the turquoise ocean and even as he’s taking in the waves and the sun, he meets the fishermen and the patty man there. A big lunch at Keshena’s and a cab ride later, Justice and Momma are back on the road to their cottage.
We feel the warmth not just from the sunbut from each and every adult Justice encounters, and in very exuberant ways. It gives us a sense of the spirit of the Jamaican culture. The flavors of the region come through both from the variety of foods and the language that we experience on every page. The smaller details enhance the authenticity that comes from the author’s many trips to Jamaica. And seeing and feeling everything through a little Californian boy makes it a funread for small children.
A glossary of the terms and words used in the narration, a map, photographs, facts and a note on Jamaica’s national heroes complete the book. I wish Justice had stopped at more places in addition to the food stalls and eateries, to help me fill in the corners of the image of Jamaica I was building in my head. And the illustrations could’ve also included more cultural nuances. However I noticed and liked something in the author’s note where she says, “In my experience Jamaica exemplifies the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”–this comes from some of Aliona’s experiences in Jamaica that were in stark contrast to everyday approaches in the western cultures. I think that’s the takeaway for me–there’s always a beautiful aspect that uniquely embellishes every culture, and in Jamaica the kindness and hospitality of its people stand out.
The Chalk Doll
by Charlotte Pomerantz and illustrated by Frané Lessac
Don’t we all love talking to our kids about our past, beginning a story with “When I was your age, there was no…” or “In those days, we did not…?” Often, reminiscing is very gratifying. Sometimes I even win the sympathy and admiration of my kids, considering our starkly contrasting childhoods.
Likewise, “The Chalk Doll” is a story about a little girl’s reaction to her mother’s childhood experiences. Rose is sick and her mother is preparing her for a midday nap. While reaching for a teddy bear to cuddle, a curious Rose comes up with many questions such as, “Mommy, did you have a bear when you were a little girl in Jamaica?”
To this, Rose’s mother eagerly recounts her childhood days growing up in Jamaica. She tells her about the rag doll she made for herself and about the chalk dolls—the fancier dolls she often stood staring at in store windows. And she recollects her own precious chalk doll, a second-hand one with one arm and a broken nose that her aunt had given her.
Among other things, Mother also narrates details of her seventh birthday when she spent her three pennies on a small cake she “put together” for her five friends. And she tells Rose about the only gift she got—a pink taffeta dress her mom sewed for her, a month later! When Rose wonders about matching shoes, Mother recounts her barefoot days and the fun she and her girlfriends always had crafting high heels from road tar and dried mango pits. Soon, Rose is not just amused and surprised, but almost envious of her mother’s free-spirited joyful days in Jamaica as a child!
The story presented a great opportunity to discuss cash-strapped or middle-class upbringings. I loved how it impresses on kids the idea that “less” is “more” and that nothing is more fun than using creativity and imagination for play!
Read more about this book here.
And if you’d like to cook something Jamaican to go along with a learning unit on Jamaica, check out this yummy recipe for Jamaican salt fish and dumpling.
© 2015, Meera Sriram. All rights reserved.
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