CaribbeanReads will be publishing two YA novels in 2017, bringing our total YA offerings to four. Since CR is a small publisher, this is significant. Three of the four books have been recognised by the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, Musical Youth was a 2014 winner, The Protector’s Pledge was a 2016 winner, and Barberry Hill was one of six finalists in 2016. So why is YA literature being given such a spotlight on the Caribbean front?
The term “young adult literature” can be hard to define. One would think that it means books that appeal mainly to a particular age range-teenagers. However, with adults being the most prolific readers of YA, it is clear that YA is more than a target age. Young Adult literature has come to mean ‘coming of age’ literature in which the central characters-usually teenagers-are impacted by the events in the book in a way that leaves them a step closer to adulthood.
YA books typically handle issues that are not addressed in the same way in books for younger children or adult literature for that matter. They tackle life complexities with which most teenagers are having their first experiences such as romantic love, fitting in, abandonment, family breakdown, drugs, sex, politics, and more. Often these themes are wrapped within a larger story, but whether the protagonists are embroiled in a fight with mystical creatures (as in The Protector’s Pledge) or in a true-to-life setting (as in Musical Youth, Another Day, and Barberry Hill), when you strip the book down to its bare minimum you should find a teen struggling against adversity to become more.
So, are these books important beyond their pure entertainment value? Definitely. They can play a key developmental role in a teen’s life.
- Having these new experiences vicariously through books can be a safe way for teens to learn about life and to be inspired by the way that other teens overcome challenges.
- Reading these stories can engender empathy for others, a very important skill in our day-to-day lives.
- For children who may be in the midst of situations similar to those being faced by the protagonist, a YA book may provide a sense of comfort and a jumping-off point for discussing their problems with friends and an adult. It is much easier for a teen to present a book to an adult and say: “This is what is happening to me” than to find the words to describe how they are hurting.
- Caribbean YA novels are important to our young people because, while the challenges of growing up are ubiquitous, every culture has a particular spin. Caribbean teens need support in their particular brand of coming-of-age. One example is colourism, a theme addressed in Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Musical Youth. While this problem may be endemic to the Caribbean or to people of African descent, being rated based on a physical feature is a concept with which all teens are familiar.
The world needs to read about how life impacts Caribbean teens and to understand that the Caribbean is a part of the global scene. Books, even fictional ones, play a key role in how the past is viewed. The Caribbean voice must be part of the collection of stories being told.
So how do we adults help this important movement? Write YA novels and share YA novels not just with Caribbean teens but with teens worldwide.
As a rule, CaribbeanReads uses Caribbean illustrators. We have a few non-Caribbean illustrators on our go-to list, for example, the first illustrator that I worked with was the phenomenal Ann-Cathrine Loo from the United Kingdom, and I would personally buy her a Caribbean passport to keep her on our list if it came down to that. But the exceptions are few and far between.
There are a few illustrators that we’ve used repeatedly and there is a good reason for that. These are illustrators who deliver excellent work that meets the requested specifications and is delivered in the time frame promised.
The main issue that we face with illustrators, however, is that many do not understand the difference between the art work that one does for sale at a gallery, for example, and the artwork that is placed in a children’s book, and no matter how talented an artist you may be, if you don’t understand this, the whole process of children’s book illustration can go south very quickly. This article discusses a few tips that will help the relationship between the illustrator and the commissioner.
- Get as much information as possible about the project. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many projects get started without a discussion of these crucial questions. These details include:
- The full text of the story that you are illustrating. If the author seems reluctant to share this, offer to sign a non-disclosure agreement protecting the author’s work. Picture books are not generally very long so this should not be burdensome for you, and reading the entire work will help you to make a connection with the characters and their situations that you can’t make if you are just told what to draw.
- The size of the book.
- The plan for the layout, for example, will the artwork and the text be on the same page or on facing pages?
- The schedule-there should be a deadline for thumbnail sketches, dummy sketches, and the finished product.
- The publisher’s vision for the book. Although you are the artist, as an illustrator for someone else’s work it is important to follow the publisher’s lead. If you object strongly to the direction in which they want to go this may not be the project for you.
- Once you have these details as you progress, keep these steps ideas in mind
- Present the publisher with rough, thumbnail sketches on a story board. This helps them to identify issues in the flow of the project.
- Once the thumbnails are approved, progress to a more detailed full-size sketches. This should be on facing pages so that you can see the full impact of the page layout. These should be detailed enough that the publisher can see specific issues, for example, if a character is wearing a hat on one page and not on another. The publisher will be able to see clearly what you have in mind and catch any changes while it is easy to make adjustments.
- If the art and the text will be on the same form, it may be best to plan the location of the text while you are composing the illustration. At the very least, be sure that there is a spot in each illustration clear enough to superimpose the words without the overall image becoming too busy.
- Work on paper as large as or larger than the planned size of the book.
- Don’t sign your name to the artwork.
- Draw to the edges of the page, but don’t put important elements more than a half inch from the sides, top, or bottom of the pages.
- One of the biggest problems that we face with illustrators is timely delivery. Be realistic about how long the illustrations will take and don’t over promise. A delay in the delivery of the artwork can destroy a project and then, no matter how lovely your drawings are you may never be hired again.
CaribbeanReads participated in the Baltimore Book Festival in October. It was on the beautiful Inner Harbor in Baltimore, a promenade that attracts a lot of people, so in addition to people who came to the festival, there were many others just wandering by.
Build a Cell From Candy
Many of these people stopped to take a look at the CaribbeanReads booth. We had a display put on by Zapped! author, Jewel Daniel. We invited children to make a model of the cell using candy. This drew a big crowd, but most of the people who stopped just to ask questions about the books were people with Caribbean roots. One elderly couple drifted near the booth and as they moved away I overheard the woman say:
“Oh, those are books for people who want their children to go to the beach.”
“These are books for people who would like to expose their kids to Caribbean culture,” I retorted. Perhaps not the most professional approach, but my aim is to educate.
She kept walking.
I wish that I could convince myself that her attitude was a minority one, but the evidence did not bear this out. People who took our cards and flyers were sure to promise to pass the information on to their Caribbean contacts. Why not to their American, European, African, and Asian friends? I really hope that our customers can break the mold, share Caribbean books with their non-Caribbean friends and bring a little Caribbean warmth into the lives of the rest of the world.
Last night before I went to bed I checked (for the 100th time) on the status of the delivery of the proof of my latest book, Seascapes. Imagine my surprise when I noted the status as “delivered”. The notes read “Delivered to Customer Boy”. It took every bit of restraint in my body not to get him out of bed to ask him for the package. Luckily good sense prevailed and I decided to look for it myself. Sure enough, lying on the floor in front of the TV was the usual brown cardboard packing that has come to mean “Proof”. Thankfully the proof was error free, imperfect, but probably only in my eyes and so the book should be available on Amazon in a day or two. Yippee!