October 5, 2007

Anancy @ South Miami Heights Elementary

Geoffrey PhilpWhen I read from Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories at South Miami Heights Elementary last week Friday, it was almost like the launch at Kara's Jamaican & Chinese Restaurant. The students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, asked interesting questions such as, "When you were growing up, did anyone try to bully you?" "How many similes did you use in the book?" and "How did you keep your writing on target?"

So, I talked about my experiences at Jamaica College, the process of writing, and that my friends, Rethabile Masilo from Lesotho, Stephen Bess from Washington, DC, Kyra Hicks from North Carolina, Xavier Murphy from Jamaica, and Josett Peat from the English Department at Miami Dade College, all helped me to "stay on target" and I listened to their advice. The children also seemed genuinely interested in the length of time it took to write the book and if I got "tired of writing." Writing, I explained was a pleasure, and I wished that I had more time to write.

Although it was an abbreviated reading without my PowerPoint on the music/culture of Jamaica and the Caribbean, we discussed hurricanes and how the same winds that brought the hurricanes off the coast of Africa (along with the dust from the Harmattan), brought peoples of African descent (Akan) to the Caribbean and these peoples brought their stories of Kweku Anansi with them.

In the two sessions that we had, many of the children wanted to know why Jimmy, the protagonist, didn't just beat up Kevin, the antagonist in the story. This led to a discussion about Anancy and why he was important in Jamaican/Caribbean culture. Anancy was the smallest animal in the forest. Because he was not strongest, fastest, meanest animal, he had to be the smartest. He had to use his wits, his brains to survive. This was the true lesson that the African peoples brought with them on the slave ships--the survival of the smartest.

I owe at debt of gratitude to Mr. Edward Gooding, the media specialist at South Miami Heights Elementary (MDPS) for inviting me to speak at their annual book fair. Thanks also to the teachers who expressed an interest in buying class sets, especially when they found out that Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories came with a study guide and questions that conform to Bloom's Taxonomy and that the book could be used during Black History Month and Caribbean-American Heritage Month celebrations.

For photos of the event, please follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51858402@N00/sets/72157602261266311/show/

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