A flood of discovery

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -

EVERY YEAR schools that read Legend of the St Ann’s Flood ask me to have a question-and-answer session with students. The novel, used in Standard Three through Form Three, sparks discussions and questions that amaze me. Each class asks some questions I have never been asked before. Students respond to the folklore explanation of that devastating 1993 flood, and they express an interest in historical fiction and folklore.

This month, Standard Four students at Sacred Heart Girls’ came prepared with their questions and comments.

Girls said they liked the action and suspense in the book.

“I liked that you related the book to something that really happened,” one girl said. “I liked that it had mythical creatures, how extreme it was, and it was a little funny,” said another girl.

One girl said, “Humour made the characters more interesting and believable.”

Humour appeals to young readers.

All of the girls said they enjoyed the Trinidad folklore characters in the book. Other comments included, “It shows the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. I liked the storyline and creativity.”

You might think children only want to read action-packed novels, but several girls said, “I liked the description.”

One girl said, “I liked the vocabulary and metaphors.”

Here are the questions they asked me:

1. Why did you choose to write about Trinidad folklore?

2. If you had to rewrite the book what would you change or add?

3. If you had to include another folklore character who would you have added?

4. Would you write another book with folklore characters in it?

5. What chapter is your favourite chapter?

6. What is one of the things you learned while writing the book, and what did you learn after publishing the book?

7. How long did it take to write?

8. What types of emotions did you feel while writing the book?

9. Do you ever have thoughts or a plan for a continuation?

10. Do you think you inspired people to write more Trinidad folklore books?

11. What would have been an alternative ending?

12. Who inspired you to write the book?

13. Did you always want to write?

14. If there’s one character you could add more descriptions to who would it be?

These are sophisticated, thought-provoking questions that made me think about the book and the writing process. From these questions, I can tell that these girls are readers and their teachers encourage reading. They are learning invaluable academic skills by reading.

Sacred Heart teachers planned fun, learning activities for the girls to do. They had to create a new character for the novel and a new ending for the story. Students designed their own cover art.

Imaginations soared. One student envisioned a grown-up Joseph in the story and created a character out of a shapeshifting tree. Papa Bois gives the tree the power to protect the forest and Joseph, who works as a biologist in the wild. The student drew a picture of the forest she imagined.

In her acknowledgments, the student thanked her teacher, Mrs Greene, for introducing her to the book. She thanked me for writing the novel, her mom for going to the bookstore during covid19 to buy the book for her to read and her dad for reading it when she was afraid.

Age-appropriate scary books help children to face their fears.

In my book, the children, Jaya and Joseph, say their goodbyes to Simon when they return him to the forest to reunite with his angry mother, Mama D’Lo, who caused the St Ann’s Flood. Her anger stems from prejudice. She feels all humans are bad, and she blames all humans for his disappearance – not just the hunters who captured him.

One girl’s project was to rewrite this scene. She had Simon and Papa Bois apologising for Mama D’Lo’s anger. Jaya goes home and brings a friend back to Joseph’s house where they all discuss Joseph and Jaya’s adventures with Simon. Jaya and Joseph, the only children whoever saw Simon, are now passing on the story.

Connecting writing assignments to reading is the way that literature and writing should be taught. They both go hand and hand. When Macmillan first published Legend of the St Ann’s Flood in 2004, I never dreamed how many students would read this novel. They would learn about our folklore characters and the need to protect our environment. They discovered the danger of anger and prejudice, and the power of friendship and love. They discovered the power of reading, and for that I am grateful.

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