The wonder of the world plant is a staple in many Caribbean gardens due to its healing properties, and writer and children’s book publisher Summer Edward has capitalized on its popularity in her quest to achieve one of her educational goals.
“The mission I have had since I left doctoral school is to promote Caribbean children’s literature. I think it’s so underrepresented and my mission is to one day get to a point where Caribbean books become normal reading for Caribbean children. Books that affirm us!
“I want teachers and parents to start becoming advocates for this. We are the buying public and we are the ones who decide what is important,” Edward told WMN in a phone interview from his home in the United States.
Edward, a long-listed author for the Ginkgo Prize – the world’s largest ecopoetry prize – recently published The Wonder of the World Leaf, the story of Wygenia, a little girl from Trinidad who uses bush medicine to help heal his grandmother when she falls ill.
The book is beautifully illustrated by TT-born American artist Sayada Ramdial with colorful images that reflect the look and culture of TT people.
Edward has also included a glossary of TT words and terms, ideas and creating context for reading, and strategies for understanding and applying what is read.
The use of standard English and local Creole helps to highlight themes of community spirit, sickness and death, traditional healing practices and the power of nature.
“Wellness is one of my interests because as a kid I struggled a lot with chronic illnesses. Even in my twenties I didn’t know what was wrong and it was hard for me. me, my friends and my family… Now I’m a fitness junkie and I like walking, running, cycling, yoga, I go to the gym at least twice a week… I love everything related outdoors and nature.
Like many children in the Caribbean, Edward discovered the wonder of the leaf of the world and its medicinal properties in elementary school – having had the experience of placing the leaves between the pages of his notebooks and watching the roots sprout as if by magic without land or water.
“In the Caribbean, healing is traditionally a community affair and some of us have forgotten this approach. The book was written so that we can relearn it, and also to teach children traditional TT healing practices. Another reason is that Caribbean children of all races see themselves reflected in literature.
The 36-year-old is also the founder of Anansesem, an online magazine that covers Caribbean literature for young readers.
The platform continues the tradition of telling and reimagining the stories of Anansi in the Caribbean – stories brought to this region by enslaved Africans and passed down orally from generation to generation. She said she used a simple free blogging platform to start the website which has grown significantly since then.
The former college writing professor has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania.
She studied fiction at the Kelly Writers House on the University of Pennsylvania campus and received writing residencies from the US-based Highlights Foundation and the TT-based Cropper Foundation, which help writers perfect their art through intimate and inspiring workshops.
“In graduate school, children’s literature scholar Dr. Lawrence Sipe took me under his wing and was instrumental in getting me interested in children’s literature. I didn’t know it could be seen and studied in this way.
Edward was born and raised in TT and moved to the United States as a teenager after his parents separated. She stayed in Philadelphia for ten years, then began moving back and forth between her two homes.
“I’m someone who’s had a very hybrid life experience, having lived in the US and TT since I was young. It shaped who I am and how I see the world, a kind of dual perspective – seeing TT from the outside and seeing the United States for what it was.
But, she says, her perspective widened even further when she traveled to other places. I could see how identity is shaped based on where you are and who you spend time with.
Although Wonder of the World Leaf, part of the Big Cat Caribbean series, is his first published book, Edward has written six other children’s books which are in the process of being published. They include Zarah and the Zemi, The Breadfruit Bonanza, Grannie’s Coal Pot, and First Class.
She has also contributed to several anthologies, both for young readers and for adults.
She said the first draft of Wonder of the World was written in one day and the journey to publishing took eight years. But it was worth it.
“The response has been great. It’s on the reading list for primary schools. Unfortunately it’s not yet sold in local bookstores due to currency exchange issues. Alternatively, it can be purchased direct from me , as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major online retailers… I expect it to be in Caribbean schools before the end of the year as well.
As an editor, Edward worked at the Heineman publishing house and recently edited books for the Fountas and Pinnell reading series.
“I was there (Fountas and Pinnell) for a few more years. I used to be an independent children’s book publisher working mostly with small presses…I’ve been burnt out by the pandemic and just need a break right now so I’m on vacation right now. I’m looking for a job while I relax,” she laughed.
Edward will be traveling to Greece in August, and when she returns to TT she hopes to resume her mission either in an editing or teaching position.
“I would like to teach Antillean literature for children at the university level, to start this course at UWI. I’ve already pitched and they’re interested, but they don’t have the funds yet.
For more information on The Wonder of the World Leaf and Anansesem, visit summeredward.com and anansesem.com