The Secret of the Swamp was written by Morton Books publisher Julie Morton, and illustrated by artist Tyler Villaruel @Tyss.artt on IG and @tyss.art on TikTok. In the coming weeks, Newsday Kids will serialise the story. The following is the first part.
The family sat at the wooden table in the small kitchen.
They were all silent. There were no sounds from the mangrove forest outside the little hut.
Through the window, Rose could see, in the evening light, the strange mangrove roots, standing tall, like long skinny black arms stretching this way and that.
Rose looked across the table at her father. Her father was looking at her mother, a worried look on his face.
"He always does that," thought Rose. Whenever there was something difficult to say, her father expected her mother to find the words to tell the children.
Rose had one sister and two brothers, all older than herself. She was just ten years old, the baby in the family. Her brothers held her hand to walk her over the mangrove roots. Each school day, her mother or sister brushed her hair and made sure a little lunch was packed in her school bag. Her father still lifted her into the boat when she was allowed to go with him and her brothers along the waterways, deep in the swamp.
Everyone looked after her.
"They think I don’t know what is wrong now," thought Rose.
Her father and brothers had come home late that evening, their large jute bags empty except for a few small crabs.
Rose looked through the window at the gathering darkness.
Her family's name was Koom. The Kooms were crab catchers. That was why they had built their home so close to the mangrove swamp. The mangroves grew for miles along the river and the sea coast. The river was called the Caroni. It was wide and deep.
Here, where the Kooms lived near this part of the mangrove forest, the river had divided into smaller rivers, which flowed lazily towards the sea. This was because the land was so flat that the river flowed over its banks, especially in the rainy season. In fact, with the mangroves growing everywhere it was difficult to tell what was river and what was land.
Rose’s teacher said the whole area was one big wetland. It was surely big and wet, thought Rose. Her father had said that the Caroni Swamp was about four thousand hectares in size. Rose could not imagine what that meant. She just knew that she was forbidden to go into the mangrove swamp on her own. She had always to keep their little wooden home in sight as she played in the outdoors, or she could get lost in the forest.
Look out next week for Hunting for Mangrove Crabs