Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review of Carol Ottley-Mitchell’s Adventures at Brimstone Hill by Dr. Mikelle Antoine

Children need history books highlighting their achievements to the past. Learning history from their perspective is the surest way to get them more excited about this subject and to ground them in the present. I started reading this book with my 6 year old son who reads at 4th grade level. He beamed at the sight of the word Caribbean. He smiled at the fact that the main character was a boy. He also smiled with pride that Africa was included in the story. This is a good indicator that history makes sense to children (or anyone) when they are able to connect with the characters.
Similar to the approach used in the docu-drama Sankofa, Ottley-Mitchell’s main characters are transported back in the 18th century, during slavery days. Unlike the main character in Sankofa who was bound to repeat the past because of her ignorance of it, the children of in the Adventures at Brimstone Hill “went back” due to their interest and desire to know and shape it. We get a glimpse of the “past” through the children’s eyes; neutral and unapologetic. This book is not about slavery, but rather how children, excited about the past, engaged in serious “adult” issues; while in the present. We know so very little about how enslaved children lived. This book allows us to explore this very sensitive topic while also highlighting a major silence in the field of Caribbean history.
One of the main questions I struggle with as a parent and as an educator is when to introduce the topic of slavery. How do I introduce the fact that Africans came to the Caribbean out of force and were brutalized and enslaved? What is the best way to introduce this topic so my children see the strength and victory that was overcome? Do I want to burden them with this history? Hence the beauty of Carol Ottley-Mitchell’s Adventure at Brimstone Hill; part history and part fiction, this book sheds light on some important aspect of Caribbean history, providing you a good opportunity to start this topic.
The best way to teach history is have children re-enact it; as players and stake holders. My son is interested in making his own whale ship. We can explore items carried, how and where. It’s also important to me that the book discusses a UNESCO Heritage Site located in the Caribbean; raising awareness of the regions’ institutional history.
And for these reasons and more, this book should be read by all. It opens so many doors for analysis; both academically and culturally.