Most of us are familiar with the more popular stories handed down from generation to generation like those about Papa Bois, Lagahoo and La Diablesse but there is room for other characters of Caribbean lore. Danielle McClean's debut children's book, The Protector's Pledge, is an adventure story that weaves various aspects of local culture including language, food and folklore into a tale that is intended to be educational as well as entertaining.
McClean, a former St Joseph's Convent pupil, currently lives in Tennessee, USA with her husband and two children where she is a translator, interpreter and substitute teacher. The Protector's Pledge, written for children between ages eight and 12, is the first book in the Secrets of Oscuros series. The author has plans for at least three books in this series.
Following her move to the US, McClean feared that her children may not have any real connection to Trinbagonian terms and sayings as well as the islands' legendary fables. This was her motivation to produce The Protector's Pledge.
The book centres on the main character, 12-year-old JV, who lives in a fictional Caribbean village with his grandmother and decides that his main mission during the long school vacation would be to explore the adjacent forest of Oscuros. The story goes on to tell of JV's experiences in Oscuros and his encounters with mythological and non-mythological characters. The Protector's Pledge has themes such as bravery, friendship, love, family, and self-discovery, and includes 12 full-page, black-and-white illustrations.
McClean said her book was targeted to a diverse audience. She also noted her careful attention to clarity and style. The book comes with a glossary of local terms and sayings.
“I knew that I wanted The Protector's Pledge to include certain folkloric characters, so that informed my decision as to setting. I was also very clear from early in the planning process what themes and social issues I wanted it to address. The ideas for the story flowed from there. This book is written for children between the ages of eight and 12, but I do hope that older readers will also find the story enjoyable.
“I wanted to write for a diverse audience, for those who may already be familiar with and have a connection to the cultural references in the book, as well as those who know nothing about them. One of my challenges, therefore, was how to write in such a way that both groups would have an enjoyable read without the first feeling that unnecessary explanations were being given or the second not understanding what was going on. As a result, I paid very careful attention to style and clarity, and of course included a glossary.
“Another challenge was the use of creole. How to write so that the language in those parts of the story remained authentic and read naturally, and at the same time could be easily understood by children and other persons outside of the local culture. In those situations, how I spelled certain words and the punctuation I used was very important,” McClean said.
McClean has achieved her goal to draw readers into a fantasy that is full of adventure and mystery. “Novels that are rich in Caribbean culture and folklore are an excellent means of entertaining, educating, and fostering social awareness among young readers. My goal for The Protector's Pledge was to draw these readers into a fantasy that is full of adventure and mystery, and that cultivates local and foreign enthusiasm for our traditional supernatural characters. I can already see that my daughter, who is five, is making connections between what she is observing around her and what has been read to her from the book.”
Also on McClean's agenda was developing a relevant children's book with meaningful messages as well as characters. “The Protector's Pledge will gently sensitise children to social issues such as environmental conservation and wildlife protection; generate excitement for local folklore through the story and illustrations; familiarise them with local terms and sayings; and give them an opportunity to consider, for example, questions such as What do family, love, and friendship really mean? and Who am I, and what are those important parts of myself that make me, me?
“In my opinion, a great children's book is one in which young readers can see themselves in characters who may or may not look like them, or be from the same or different walks of life, but with whom there is something in their personality or experience with which they can identify. The book needs to be entertaining so that children won't want to put it down. It should expose them to something new and make them think. It will feed their young, brilliant imagination and make them feel as if they are right there with the main character, joining in on the adventures, solving the mysteries, and thinking through the dilemmas,” McClean said.
McClean noted the importance of reading for children. “Reading gives a child's imagination an opportunity to soar. Images are conjured for the reader from the author's written words and the wonderful thing is that these images will never be exactly the same for any two persons. The personal experiences, observations, and interactions of each will inform how he or she ‘sees' what the author has written, making it a very personal experience.
“Reading is also important because it exposes children to new ideas and language-building vocabulary. There is the added advantage over other forms of media in that reading can be done at children's individual pace, allowing them to process the information at a comfortable rate,” she said.
In addition to having her book in paperback and ebook formats, the author wants to research the option of audio books. She is a former volunteer reader for what was formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and which is now known as the Learning Ally.
“I understand how important it is that literature be made available in as many formats as possible so that it is accessible to everyone. I am also a translator and plan to translate my books into Spanish and French.
Apart from the books, McClean will continue to work on her Culturally Caribbean blog (www.culturallycaribbean.com). Future plans include adapting her books for presentation in other art forms, for example the stage and cinema, and ultimately being in a position to support other Caribbean authors on their publishing journeys. The Protector's Pledge is available locally at Charran's Book Stores, and online at Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle ebook versions) and her CreateSpace estore: createspace.com/4882499 (paperback only). McClean can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DanielleY.C.McClean and through her website www.daniellemcclean.com.