Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 8th 2013 Contents A23
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3RD 4TH & 5TH FORMS
There are few experiences
that match the joy on stu-
dents faces when they
come face-to-face with an
author. Our children---like chil-
dren everywhere---enjoy books
that reflect themselves and their
culture. I realised this more than
ever when 35 ten-year-old stu-
dents in Grade Four who come to
me for library classes at the
International School of Port-of-
Spain got to meet Betty Peter,
author of Brown Sugar and
Spice, a historical novel set in
Trinidad, Grenada and St Lucia.
I am always amazed at the
questions students ask and the
enthusiasm that they express
when they discover local litera-
The first question that popped
up for Peter was: "What advice
would you give us about writ-
Peter answered: "Never lose
sight of a really good idea. Get
your idea written down immedi-
ately. Be willing to rewrite."
Boys as well as girls enjoyed
Peter s historical novel about
Harriet s adventures in the
Caribbean during World War II.
Boys were not put off that the
main character is a girl.
"What they seem to relate to is
that it is a story about family,"
Students initial curiosity led to
questions such as: "How did you
get the name for your book?"
They quickly move to questions
that separate fact from fiction in
the book and asked: "When you
were writing the play in the
book, were you really thinking
like a play and not a book? Did
the cook really kill a chicken?
Did you really ride a donkey to
Finally, they realised they could
ask a general question to distin-
guish which parts of the novel
were real and which parts were
"What parts in the book hap-
pened and which parts were
exaggerated? Which parts were
embellished?" they asked.
Many of the questions targeted
the writing process.
Do you ever write so fast you
leave words out? Do you get
more ideas while you re writing?
How do you know when you ve
written something good?
To the last question, Peter
replied, "You really have to feel it
inside. Of course you always try
to improve what you wrote."
Students then asked: "Where
do you get ideas to write about?
How do you know when to end a
book? Do you just end when you
have no more thoughts?"
Peter pointed out that the
novel begins with the beginning
of World War II and ends with
the end of the war so that the
students could understand differ-
ent possibilities for the structure
of a novel.
When we had read Brown
Sugar and Spice together, we
identified figures of speech and
various literary elements. Still, I
was surprised when a student
asked: "How is it so easy for you
to come up with alliteration?"
My favourite question was:
"When did you get the idea that
your life was so interesting you
should write about it for others
They asked: "What do you like
better: the suspense or the
humour in the novel?"
When Peter turned the tables
on them, they said they liked the
humour even more than the sus-
pense in her novel.
Eventually, students began to
seek advice about their own
writing. "When I m writing I
find there s no way to stop. How
do you find a place to stop?"
Students talked about Peter s
visit the entire year.
I was equally impressed with
the questions I got from Stan-
dard Four students at St Joseph
Boys RC School who read Peter s
book as well as Legend of the St
Ann s Flood, the book I had
written about the 1993 flood in
St Ann s. When their teachers,
Marvin Libert and Ian Johnson
invited me to talk about Legend
of the St Ann s Flood, I realised
these two teachers have boys
passionate about reading. Their
teachers read to them every day,
and the boys read at home.
Among the questions they
asked were: "How many times
did you write this book over?
Which folklore character scares
you the most and which folklore
character do you like the most?
How did you come up with the
douens as characters in the
story? Why did you choose to
put folklore characters in a story
about a flood? How did you feel
upon completion of the book?
Who was your favourite and least
After probing my own back-
ground, they asked: "Did you get
information from your childhood
to write this book?" That, I
thought, is a strange question
because it s such a Trinidadian
book. Besides, I had said that I
wrote the book for my son, Jairz-
inho, because he kept asking me
to read him a Trinidadian book
when he was ten, and I couldn t
A student asked: "Did anyone
pick on you in school?" That s
when I knew that I had drawn
on my own experiences in school
about bullying and unfairness to
write this novel. Being astute
readers, these students realised
that there was something deeper
that the reasons I was giving
them for writing the book.
Once again, I couldn t help but
marvel at the questions readers
NEXT WEEK: The most
common questions about reading
and children that parents ask me.
QUESTIONS TO AN AUTHOR I was equally impressed
with the questions I got
from Standard Four
students at St Joseph Boys'
RC School who read Betty's
book as well as Legend of
the St Ann's Flood, the
book I had written about
the 1993 flood in St Ann's.
When their teachers,
Marvin Libert and Ian
Johnson invited me to talk
about Legend of the St
Ann's Flood, I realised
these two teachers have
boys passionate about
reading. Their teachers
read to them every day,
and the boys read at home.
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