When Life Gives You Mangoes, by Jamaican Kereen Getten, has won the first-ever Bocas Lit Fest Children’s Book Prize, 2021.
Getten, who grew up in Jamaica and now lives in the UK, has previously written short stories for multiple publications including Notts Review and Adhoc Fiction, and was nominated for Best Short Fiction 2018. Her story about Clara, an 11-year old with a penchant for mangoes and a bout of memory loss after a hurricane strikes her island, is captured in When Life Gives You Mangoes. She receives a cash prize of US$1,000 from the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC), after securing the win out of the three shortlisted books – Carol Mitchell’s Chaos in Castries, and Janet Morrison’s A Different Me, A Better You.
The head judge, Joan Osborne, renowned storyteller and former Executive Director, NALIS, was full of praise for Mangoes: “The story takes you through a wide range of emotions – joy, excitement, sadness apprehension, surprise and happiness. The book explores a range of contemporary, complex life situations such as the multi-layered elements of friendships among children, family and community relationships, disability, religion, even the supernatural. All the themes are skillfully woven into a balanced, fast paced, elegantly written story which will certainly hold the interest of all readers.”
The prize received twenty-one submissions of books from around the Caribbean, which were shortlisted to six by the three judges: Joan Osborn, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books, and Olive Senior, Jamaica’s Poet Laureate. For the shortlist stage, Clarisse Lee Sing, aged 14, joined the judges to add her youthful insight and helped to select the top three books.
The Children’s Book Prize was started to achieve a certain definite objective – to help stimulate the creation of more culturally relevant reading material for Caribbean children aged 7-12. Many ineligible books were received when the prize first opened, including picture-led books, which parents could read to and with their children, but which are not appropriate for children whose reading needs to move into a new phase that prepares them for the next stage of life and education.
The Prize instead seeks to award excellence in books aimed at children who are in that important independent reading stage, who can understand narrative and are expanding their own imaginations and storytelling capabilities.
Bocas Lit Fest founder, Marina Salandy-Brown, is keen to shine a light on this weakness in the regional book culture. “Like so much else of what the Bocas Lit Fest has undertaken, this project came out of the observation of the reading environment in Trinidad and Tobago, in this case, a shortage of suitable reading material for children at a critical stage of their development of reading skills, i.e. when they move from learning to read, to reading to learn. It took us a while to find a sponsor for this important prize that encourages writers to focus on those young readers, and I do hope that the UTC will continue to work with us to improve our children’s reading development.”