The wonder of the world plant is a staple in many Caribbean gardens because of its healing properties, and writer and children’s book editor Summer Edward has capitalised on its popularity in her quest to achieve one of her educational goals.
“The mission I’ve been on since I’ve left grad school is promoting Caribbean children's literature. I think it’s so under-represented and my mission is to one day get it to a point where Caribbean-based books become normal reading for Caribbean children. Books that affirm us!
“I want teachers and parents to start becoming advocates for that. We are the buying public and we are the ones to decide what’s important,” Edward told WMN in a phone interview from her home in the US.
Edward, a Ginkgo Prize long-listed author – the world’s biggest prize for ecopoetry – recently published The Wonder of the World Leaf, the story of Wygenia, a little girl from Trinidad who uses bush medicine to help heal her grandmother when she falls ill.
The book is beautifully illustrated by TT-born US-based artist Sayada Ramdial, with colourful images that mirror the looks and culture of the people of TT.
Edward also included a glossary of TT words and terms, ideas and context building for reading, and strategies for understanding and applying what is read.
The use of both standard English and the local Creole help highlight the themes of community spirit, illness and death, traditional healing practices and the power of nature.
“Wellness is a strong interest of mine because in my 20s I had a lot of struggles with illness. I didn’t know what was wrong and it was a hard on me and friends and family…Now I’m a fitness junkie and I like walking, running, biking, yoga, I go to the gym at least twice a week…I love anything to do with outdoors and nature.”
Like many Caribbean children, Edward learned about the wonder of the world leaf and its medicinal properties in primary school – having had the experience of placing the leaves between the pages of her copy books and watching the roots magically sprout with no soil or water.
“In the Caribbean, healing is traditionally a communal affair and some of us have forgotten that approach. The book was written so we could relearn it, and also to teach children about the traditional healing practices of TT. Another reason is for Caribbean children of all races to see themselves reflected in literature.”
The 36-year-old is also the founder of Anansesem, an online magazine that covers Caribbean literature for young readers.
The platform continues the tradition of re-telling and re-inventing the Anansi stories in the Caribbean – stories brought to this region by African slaves and passed on orally from generation to generation. She said she used a simple free blogging platform to start the website which has grown tremendously since then.
The former college writing instructor holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a masters of education from the University of Pennsylvania.
She studied fiction at the Kelly Writers House on the University of Pennsylvania campus, and received writing residencies from the US-based Highlights Foundation and the TT-based Cropper Foundation, both of which help authors hone their craft through intimate and inspiring workshops.
“At grad school, scholar of children’s literature Dr Lawrence Sipe took me under his wing and played a seminal part in getting me interested in children’s literature. I didn’t know it could be viewed and studied in that way.”
Edward was born and raised in TT and moved to the US in her late teens. She stayed in Philadelphia for ten years and then started travelling back and forth between her two homes.
“I’m someone who has had a very hybrid kind of life experience having lived in the US and TT since I was young. This has shaped who I am and how I see the world, a sort of dual perspective – seeing TT from the outside and the US for what it was.”
But, she said, her perspective broadened even more when she travelled to other places. "I got to see how identity is shaped based on where you are and who you spend time with."
Although the Wonder of the World Leaf, part of the Collins Big Cat Caribbean series, is her first published book, Edward has written six other children’s books which are in the process of being published. They include Zarah and the Zemi, The Breadfruit Bonanza, Grannie’s Coal Pot and First Class: How Elizabeth Lange Built a School.
She has also contributed to several anthologies, both for young readers and adults.
She said the first draft of Wonder of the World was written in a day, and the journey to publishing has taken eight years. But it was worth it.
“The response has been great. It’s on the reading list for primary schools. Sadly, it’s not being sold in local book stores yet because of the foreign exchange problems. Otherwise, it can be purchased directly from me, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major online retailers…I expect it to be in schools throughout the Caribbean islands before the end of the year as well.”
As an editor, Edward has worked at publishing house Heinemann, and most recently edited books for the Fountas and Pinnell reading series.
“I was there (Fountas and Pinnell) for a little over two years. Before I was an independent freelance children’s book editor working with small presses mainly…I have been exhausted from the pandemic and I just need a break right now, so I’m on vacation at the moment. I’m job hunting while I relax,” she chuckled.
Edward will travel to Greece in August, and when she returns to TT she is hoping to resume her mission either in an editing or teaching position.
“I would love to teach Caribbean children's literature at university level, to start that course at UWI. I’ve already made the pitch and they are interested, but they don’t have the funds right now.”
For more information on The Wonder of the World Leaf and Anansesem visit summeredward.com and anansesem.com