Eventful National Storytelling Day! - Amina Blackwood-Meeks launches children’s book today; ‘Kinteet and Heartbun’ podcast on the way
Amina Blackwood-Meeks has enjoyed a lifetime of storytelling. When the recounter was young, she would look on in amazement as her parents told her stories over the weekend.
“I didn’t know my parents were teaching, but they told us stories all the time. We lived for them on a Friday night, when they would parch their peanuts to sell on the weekend, and we would help. So we got stories in that setting, but we also got stories of chastisement, encouragement and rewards. So I grew up knowing a story was part of my life, without knowing that it was even a story,” she told The Gleaner.
Today, the lecturer, writer and consummate performer will launch her new children’s book, That’s a Good Idea. The story is one of exploration, she revealed, of a little boy called Johnny, who has questions about everything. Wanting to know how the animals came into being, his grandfather tells him a story all about it. “Throughout the book, whenever he learns something new, he says, ‘That’s a good idea,’” shared Blackwood-Meeks.
Afrocentric Creation story
The book gives an Afrocentric, child-like view of the Creation story. It captures children’s games, Jamaican proverbs and rhymes, which was especially important for the author.
“People love to say, ‘The children don’t know anything that we used to do when we were little.’ But that’s a burden we put on them, you know, because nobody can learn what they have not been taught; no child or adult. But we’re the ones carrying [on], like, ‘dem nah go wah fi learn old-fashion tings.’ We never say that when we teach William Shakespeare or Frédéric Chopin. We just gwaan like seh is something that they need to learn,” she said.
For Blackwood-Meeks, the key to who we are may be found in proverbs, rhymes, riddles and games, and when delivered to children in a proper manner, they will enjoy it. This book is a part of that thrust.
She notes, “We’re always hearing stories of the beginnings of people, and we never seem to begin with ourselves. We never seem to begin with knowing that we are beautiful.” The book is meant to be part of the conversation with black children – of the continent and black children within the diaspora — examining what it is that holds them together across all the oceans and for centuries.
A Spanish version of the book is already in the pipeline. So is a version in one of the 11 official languages in South Africa. There will also be fashionable spin-offs from the book. Children will be able to purchase a ‘Johnny’ shirt, like the one in the book, at live readings.
With her labour of love and storytelling now out into the world, Blackwood-Meeks is also preparing for the launch of podcast series, Kinteet and Heartbun. She describes The Gleaner production as being diverse and true to Jamaica. Listeners can expect a variety of stories – original stories from Blackwood-Meeks, stories that adults grew up with and stories that she has gathered in her travels which have international appeal in terms of their messages and concerns.
“From the smallest of child [to the] oldest of relatives, family and friends can sit down together around a mug of wash, enjoy it and relate to it in the same way they relate to ‘Our Father’ and Psalms 23,” she added with a laugh.
“A long time ago, I settled in my mind that my stories can only be successful if the children enjoy the rhythm and sounds of the words. The age group above that will understand the meanings of the words and the plot,” she continued, sharing her approach to storytelling across generations.
“The age group above that will understand that it’s a nice story and, ultimately, will get that it is sociopolitically centred. There is no level that this story can fail. My stories are intergenerational. That’s how I was taught or told stories. I really want these stories to live forever,” she said.
With a new book and a podcast, there is no doubt they will.