Category Archives: On Writing

CaribbeanReads at the Copenhagen Book Festival

The Copenhagen Book Festival opened today and two books by Opal Palmer Adisa, Look! A Moko Jumbie and Dance Quadrille, Play Quelbe were on display.

Lise Bostrop, the chair of the board of the Danish Language Circle, added the books to the organization’s display booth at the Festival. The promotional material informs visitors of the historical connection between Denmark and the US Virgin Islands and encourages them to learn about the culture of these islands as presented in Dr. Adisa’s children’s books.

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Musical Youth Second Edition Releases (with Bonus Author Information Revealed)

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In November 2014, CaribbeanReads was tremendously proud to publish the Burt Award prize-winning title Musical Youth #musicalyouthbook by Joanne C. Hillhouse. We printed 4000 copies of the book, and today, thanks to the support of Code, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, schools, bookstores such as Best of Books in Antigua and Paperbased in Trinidad, and book festivals in Brooklyn, St. Martin, USVI, Barbados, Anguilla, and Miami, we are all sold out!

With the second printing, we made a few changes to the cover (still maintaining the beautiful artwork of Glenroy Aaron) and the acknowledgements in which Hillhouse speaks of her own gratefulness and thanks “readers everywhere—tout monde sam and baggai, as we say in Antigua and Barbuda—who bought and/or took the time to recommend the book; and specifically, Caribbean readers and young people who have told me how much they love Zahara, and how Zahara and Shaka are #relationshipgoals.”

Inside, the second edition of Musical Youth contains the same content that has prompted the incredible support the book has received. Zahara and Shaka pop off the page with the same intensity that keeps teens talking about them long after they’ve read the last word. Read reviews of the book here.

In commemoration of the new edition, author Joanne C. Hillhouse has put together a candid discussion about her writing process, her vision of the characters, and more in this study guide: author’s edition.

Musical Youth is the first of two Burt Award winners published by CaribbeanReads, the second being The Protectors’ Pledge by Danielle Y. C. McClean. The success of these titles speaks to the fact that we need Caribbean books and, more generally, #weneeddiversebooks.

Where to buy it? The new edition is available from the publisher, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and select bookstores. Ask your local bookstores and schools for your copy of the new edition. Copies of the OG (original version of) Musical Youth are still available at select bookstores. It’s may become a collectors’ item, so get yours quickly.

Share the news, let’s make this hashtag go viral. #musicalyouthbook. As Caribbean schoolchildren (of old?) might say, we glad bag bus’!

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Toni Morrison’s Passing

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I had just completed a post celebrating Jamaica’s Independence when I read the news that Toni Morrison had died. My first instinct was to delete the light-hearted post. How could I be joyous when an icon like Morrison, Nobel prize and Pulitzer prize winning author, inspirational on so many levels, had departed this world? Her life’s example suggests that she would encourage us to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death.

Morrison inspires me as a writer with her metaphorical, original, and visionary use of language. I have no doubt that each word she leaves on the page is placed with careful consideration of its contribution to her meaning and the image it leaves in her readers minds.

Morrison inspires me to write truth. To write my stories without tailoring them to mollify the sensibilities of one group of readers or another. She was determined not to write literature that catered exclusively to a white audience, and if you have read Beloved or Tar Baby you will know that she held nothing back. She paved a way for the writers who choose to walk in and therefore enlarge the mark her footsteps have left.

Morrison inspires me to persevere. Although she was a storyteller as a child, she did not write her first novel until she was in her late 30’s, yet she completed almost a dozen substantive novels before passing away this year. Her work reminds us that once we are alive there are stories that we must tell.

Although I did not read this quote from Morrision until after I wrote my first book, it epitomizes the motivation for my journey into being an author and publisher.

I purposely used the present tense here, she inspires me. Her passing from this world does not mean an end to her influence. Her legacy will linger for as long as we read and understand the importance of literature. CNN reports that Morrison once said: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

Rest in peace Ms. Morrison. #tonimorrison

-Carol Mitchell

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Are you Wiki-ready?

In honor of Women’s History Month, arts’ institutes worldwide are organising events this Saturday (March 23, 2019) to improve Wikipedia entries related to notable women artists and art world figures. We (at CaribbeanReads) have occasionally updated lists of Caribbean writers on Wikipedia just to ensure that some of the more recently established Caribbean writers are represented, however, these writers often do not have pages or their pages are incomplete.

Wikipedia is a great example of a Catch-22. What makes it most useful, the fact that anyone can contribute and edit posts, makes it most dangerous. According to the Pew Research Center, “Wikipedia averages more than 18 billion page views per month, making it one of the most visited websites in the world,” data they extracted from, a Web tracking company owned by Amazon. Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable, but widely used and so it is important that all artists, (but of course our main concerns at CaribbeanReads are Caribbean artists), make sure they are accurately represented on this platform.

And so, while we are not organizing an official “wikipedia editathon” (maybe next year?), we encourage Caribbean artists to join with other artists and set aside some time tomorrow to look up your profile on Wikipedia and make sure you are accurately and effectively represented. Also feel free to post here about what you found and what you changed.

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Burt Award for Caribbean Literature Now Open for Submissions


Now in its fifth year, the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature recognizes up to three English-language literary works for young adults (aged 12 through 18) written by Caribbean authors.

CaribbeanReads has had the pleasure of publishing two Burt Award winners, 2nd place winner in 2014 Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse and 3rd place winner in 2016 The Protectors’ Pledge by Danielle Y. C. McClean.

This year, the winning title will be awarded $10,000 CDN, and two finalists will be awarded $2,000 CDN each.

Publishers of winning titles will be awarded a guaranteed purchase of up to 2,500 copies, which will be donated to schools, libraries, and literacy organizations throughout the region. To date, more than 22,000 copies of winning books have made their way into the hands of Caribbean youth.

Published books, previously self-published books, and unpublished manuscripts are eligible for the award. Eligible books and unpublished manuscripts may be submitted to the Bocas Lit Fest by publishers registered and operating in the Caribbean. Unpublished manuscripts or previously self-published books may be submitted by authors directly to the Bocas Lit Fest.

Books published between 1 November 2016 and 31 October 2017 and eligible manuscripts must be received at the office of the Bocas Lit Fest by 31 October 2017.

See attached for the official 2018 guidelines and entry form. More information at

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Extract – Musical Youth

In this extract of the award-winning novel Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse, Zahara, Shaka, and their friends are practicing for a summer musical performance. With opening night just one night away Zahara struggles to get the dance moves right. She’s comfortable on the guitar but dancing just does not seem to be her thing as we see in this short extract from Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Read more of this book in eBook or in print. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and stores near you. More information about this book.


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Conversations Live! with author Danielle Y. C. McClean

Danielle Y. C. McClean, award winning author of The Protectors’ Pledge speaks on Conversations Live! with Cyrus Webb.Protectors pledge cover v3-Front

Mr. Webb highlights his admiration for the Protectors’ Pledge and its message of overcoming personal fears, making a difference in the world at any age, and respecting mother nature.  They talk about the way Danielle takes us into JV’s world and ties in culture with a social message.

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Why YA?

ya-coversCaribbeanReads 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.

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Illustrating with CaribbeanReads

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Once you have these details as you progress, keep these steps ideas in mind
    • 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.


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