KYANA BOWEN'S son Nweze wanted to go to Hawaii. He was watching a video on YouTube and a pop-up ad showed the five-year-old beautiful Pacific beaches. Excited by turquoise waters and white sand, Nweze begged his mother to take him to Hawaii.
Bowen told her son he didn’t need to travel that far to see beaches. They lived on an island.
Nweze, like many other children his age and older, did not know enough about the Caribbean.
“I realised children that age needed to be educated about what we have in our region. We don’t always need to go outside to experience what other places in the world offer,” Bowen told Newsday.
She scoured the internet to find age-appropriate sites to teach Nweze about the Caribbean. She googled and went on YouTube but could not find anything interesting.
Unless she took her son to a Caribbean country, she thought, he would not have an understanding of the Caribbean's rich culture. So she wrote The Caribbean and Me, an interactive book geared towards teaching children about the region.
The Caribbean and Me is a three-part series about Zari and Koto, children who travel around the Caribbean with their parents.
Zari is from Grenada and Koto from Antigua and Barbuda. The two cross paths on one of their families’ trips. Their parents become Facebook friends and follow each other’s lives online across the Caribbean.
Zari goes to Trinidad for Carnival and Koto goes to Barbados. They also go to St Lucia, Jamaica and Dominica.
Bowen used letters of the alphabet to organise the book. A is for avocado. N represents nature: Koto learns Dominica is known as the nature island. S is for steelpan. Zari reflects on the history and significance of the steelpan when she goes to TT.
“The book is about helping children understand their culture so they won’t feel as if they have to leave the Caribbean to experience the good things in life. We are building that sense of Caribbean pride.”
She included activity pages throughout the book: there are word searches, comprehensions and search quizzes.
The book is for children four and older.
Part one of The Caribbean and Me Part is available for pre-order on learncaribbean.com. September 21 is the official release date and it will be available in all PriceSmart branches. It is also available on Amazon.
Bowen is self-published and used TT-based printer Office Authority to print her book. Bowen is looking for regional printers to help publish her book and hopes to sell the book regionally.
Part two and three will become more advanced for children, Bowen said, She wants to introduce them to map work and get them to learn different languages.
“I want children to understand where we are located in the Caribbean. We have maps available to us on Google, but some children don’t know that Guyana is to the south of us, and is not an island but considered part of the Caribbean.”
She said many adults don’t know where islands in the Caribbean are located.
“I feel like we need to start from small and not wait for secondary school level to do geography to know that information.”
Part two and three will be published in July and December 2021 respectively.
Her illustrator is Alejandro Ali. He recently graduated from the University of the West Indies.
“Sometimes people rather go with the professional rather than give a student a try, but I am so proud of the work he did.”
Bowen is no stranger to inter-regional travel. She is from Trinidad, typically works in Barbados and used to live in Turks and Caicos. Because of covid19, she is working remotely in Trinidad until it is safer to move around again.
On a Caribbean Community (Caricom) level there is a strong promotion of Caribbean pride, she said. Events such as Carifesta encourage regional integration and cultural sharing.
“We are one Caribbean. We cook the same, we have the same diet, we have the same environment, just some people have different beaches.
“If we are to promote our culture of one Caribbean, we have to start with children. Any culture we need to change, it needs to begin with the children.”
Since people can no longer travel regionally as before, she believes her book is a good way to experience the Caribbean without travelling.
“The book is a must-read given our current covid19 environment, with physical-distancing measures and border restrictions in place, the book will allow children to virtually explore and learn about the islands.”