By Stephanie Fullerton-Cooper
Summer for me has long been linked with reading! As a child, my friends would anticipate the long, hot, lazy days of summer for beach trips, to travel to other countries, to hang out with friends, or to indulge in a favoured activity that the demands of school had kept them from. I fell into that latter category. I had always been surrounded by books, could hardly fall asleep until I had done some reading – a fact that still haunts my adult years – but school always prevented me from indulging in the all-consuming way I wanted to. Then came summer, and the promise of sleeping late, then waking up to read for at minimum two hours while still being in bed. Hunger would be what likely pushed me away from the books, but shortly after breakfast, I would find a tranquil, shaded area at home to continue this reading. Hours would fly by, my actual surroundings would be forgotten, and I would be transported to phenomenal places as I would read, and read, and read.
Phenomenal places - that is the theme for The Cayman Islands Public Library Service’s 2021 Summer Reading Challenge. As I read their website and note the colorful banners as I drive around the island, I wish I were that carefree teen again who could indulge and be part of this exciting challenge! I sincerely hope the Public Library is inundated with Cayman’s youth who have taken on this challenge, anxious to have new, vicarious experiences through the characters they meet on multiple pages. The public library is using this opportunity to promote lifelong learning through reading, and the online welcome to challengers refers to “so many amazing books with descriptions of phenomenal places including fantasy locations”. The information includes a listing of possibilities like Narnia and the Great Wall of China. It urges readers to “Visit temples, palaces, cities; stroll through forests and mountains; delve into the deep seas or even fly above the clouds.”
I also hope the readers will be challenged to visit many local phenomenal places through reading local books. Some believe it’s ridiculous to have the readers focus on Cayman writings as the aim is to transport them to new places. But, how many of us really know everything about where we call home? And even if by chance we do, do we know the imaginary, phenomenal places that local writers also invite us to explore? Do we know the advantages to promoting and indulging in the literature we produce?
Several other countries promote their own literature. For example, authors Fuller and Bingham report that Canada views its literature as essential at every level of the education system as “a literature is lasting evidence of a nation’s growth and sense of destiny”. They examine how Canadian students benefit from studying their literature and how exporting Canadian writings influences the outsiders’ view of Canada. In the USA, author Sean Griffin posits that teachers use American literature to help their adolescent students in their search for self as, by looking at fictional characters, students ultimately see a reflection of themselves, and then identify and challenge their personal ethics. Clearly then, reading about their own phenomenal places brings about phenomenal results.
A few weeks ago, I referenced the Brac fable Quest on the Marl Road by Kathleen Bodden-Harris and suggested that Cayman’s school-age children all read it. I was part of a group that judged local writings in a literary awards event years ago, and this work emerged winner. The other judges and I were impressed by the phenomenal places that this work transported us to. Though set in the Brac, the reader was transported not just to this place we all know and love, but to a fantasy-based, phenomenal place that framed the reality for Bodden-Harris’ crab, iguana, and other animal characters. It was a fascinating read! Similarly, local poets like Nasaria Suckoo Chollette and Roy Bodden transport readers to the phenomenal place that Cayman of old was, as their works evoke memories and celebrate traditions. Today’s Cayman youth would not be familiar with these, but the descriptive power of local poetry, the evocation of long-held beliefs, and the re-presentation of colorful languages, can indeed transport them to a phenomenal place that gives them a glimpse of their past, enables a better understanding of their present, and creates in them a desire to redefine and chart their future.
Recently, Cayman’s youth were invited to enter a creative writing competition as staged again by the public library, as well as Friends of the Library, and CLM Publishing. This, coupled with the Summer Reading Challenge, are undoubtedly wonderful opportunities for Cayman’s youth as we foster a new generation of local readers and writers. In my humble estimation, only good can come from these activities. What I also like is that the youth were not just asked to write stories, but Karen Chin of CLM Publishing also offered two free workshops on creative writing. This foundation is necessary as it fosters an understanding of the fact that perspiring is part of aspiring to write. Kudos to the organisers for including these sessions so our youth see that creativity comes from effort. Again however, my hope is that those who entered the writing competition also wrote about the phenomenal place we all call home – the Cayman Islands. This island paradise is the perfect catalyst for creativity, and I for one am anxious to hear the results of this competition and to see how our young writers re-present ‘home’ in their creative expressions.
So, even as you indulge in summer reading, and “let your imagination take you on a journey of discovery and wonder”, explore Narnia, Hogwarts, and the Pyramids of Giza, but reach for the local books as well, and similarly enjoy writings that Cayman has produced.