Sunday, 30 October 2011

PAGE BY PAGE: Kellie Magnus finds passion in catering to the literary needs of children

STORYTELLER: Magnus weaves tales for young audiences.

Around the summer of 2002, Kellie Magnus had an eye-opening conversation with her young niece, who was extolling the joys of reading books featuring the likes of Dora The Explorer and SpongeBob Squarepants. “I asked her to tell me which Jamaican story characters she liked, and she told me she didn’t know of any,” recalls Magnus. A subsequent trip to a local bookstore confirmed an inconvenient truth. “I was really appalled that there were only a few Jamaican children’s books on the shelves. It felt like Jamaican children didn’t have enough books to inspire them about our culture.”

Spurred by a casual suggestion from her niece to write a book for children, Magnus decided she had to take action. A year later, she published her first book, Little Lion Goes To School, which went on to spawn a series of Little Lion stories. “My childhood was filled with books that I read and which my parents read to me,” explains Magnus, who now operates the small but thriving publishing house Jack Mandora, a specialist in children’s literature. “And I am adamant that our children need to be engaged with our culture from early because they are so bombarded by images from other
cultures. It’s become a passion of mine.”

These days, the 31-year-old author is observing a terrific milestone with the fresh-off- the-press publication of A Book For Baby and Trixie Triangle, the first Jamaican-published board books for babies. A Book For Baby was penned by Magnus herself (with art by Rachel Moss), while Trixie is entirely the creation of frequent collaborator Michael Robinson.

The colourfully illustrated books, which were specially conceived for Book Start Jamaica, a new initiative by the education ministry to get more parents reading to their young kids, will be launched early next month (Parents’ Month). “The ministry put out a call for submissions for the programme, and we decided to enter two books, which were accepted,” Magnus tells TALLAWAH. “It’s a great project, and we loved the idea and were immediately supportive and excited by it. It’s a wonderful initiative to encourage parents to read to their kids from early.”

As if that weren’t enough, Magnus is steering her publishing house toward another major goal. “We are now working on a pretty big collection, which we hope will be ready in time for Jamaica 50,” she reveals. “We want to publish some really great books for that, so we are working with a group of traditional and non-traditional writers.”

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