6 on longlist for Bocas Children’s Book Prize

Six writers from across the Caribbean have been longlisted for the inaugural Bocas Children’s Book Prize, with tales that bring magic, folklore, and real historical events to life for the region’s young readers.

The prize, sponsored by the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC), is the first of its kind, recognising Caribbean books for young independent readers aged seven-12, said a media release from the Bocas Lit Fest.

Of the six writers up for the award, three are from Jamaica, and the others from Haiti, the US Virgin Islands, and St Kitts and Nevis.

The prize is open to books written by a single author who either holds Caribbean citizenship or was born in the Caribbean,

A total of 21 submissions were received from across the region and the diaspora, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, the US Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti.

The judges’ longlist selections are now before a young reader, 14-year-old Clarisse Kem Lee-Sing, who will make comments and help select the shortlist.

Head judge Joan Osborne, renowned storyteller and retired deputy executive director at Nalis, said, in the release that the selection process “was similar to trying to select six of the most beautiful flowers from a garden of rare blooms. Caribbean literature for young readers, while it is growing, is still not in great abundance, so the delicate offerings from our talented writers must be appreciated.”

Olive Senior, writer and poet laureate of Jamaica, is also a judge, alongside Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books.

The prize emerged from the observation of the sparsity of books coming out of the region for Caribbean children in the critical reading age of seven-12, the release said. This was borne out by the slow trickle of mainly ineligible books when the prize first opened.

Marina Salandy-Brown, founder of the Bocas Lit Fest, creators of the prize, commented on the lack of age-appropriate books.

“We can now confirm that too few age-appropriate books are available for our children, who are then ill-prepared for the next stage of their education,” Salandy-Brown said in the release.

Books for younger children are mainly picture books which parents read to and with children. From about age seven, children should be moving on to less illustrated books, which they read on their own. By age 11, when children enter secondary school, their books should be narrative-led, the Lit Fest said.

Natasha Davis, vice president, marketing and operations at UTC, said the prize would undoubtedly encourage more authors to publish their work for young Caribbean readers.

“The Unit Trust Corporation is pleased to contribute to the development of literature for Caribbean young readers by providing the US$1,000 prize in its first year. The prize aims to recognise and celebrate excellent writing and intriguing storytelling that can capture young imaginations and help establish a lifelong love and habit of reading in this very important age group,” David said in the release.

Caribbean-born authors, resident anywhere in the world, of English-language books published, including self-published, between January 2020 and July 2021 were eligible for the inaugural prize.

The shortlist will be announced later in October and the winner in November.

Longlist, 2021 Bocas Children’s Book Prize:

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Haiti.

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender – Scholastic Press, US Virgin Islands

Lost in the Cockpit Country by Billy Elm – Blue Banyan Books, Jamaica

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten – Pushkin Children’s Books, Jamaica

Chaos in Castries by Carol Mitchell – Caribbean Reads Publishing St Kitts & Nevis

A Different Me A Better You by Janet Morrison – Blue Banyan Books, Jamaica


"6 on longlist for Bocas Children’s Book Prize"

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