Children’s author Trish Cooke on the joy of storytelling and the importance of black youngsters having books that reflect their image, as Davina Hamilton writes in The Voice.
POPULAR children’s author Trish Cooke returns with another literary gem, courtesy of her latest book Look Back!
Recognising the African and Caribbean tradition of elders sharing stories with young members of their family, Look Back! celebrates the relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, as she tells her grandson about her childhood adventures in the Caribbean.
Recalling her childhood quest to find a mysterious creature called Ti Bolom, her grandson’s curiosity is sparked as he wonders if Ti Bolom is real, or just one of Grannie’s stories.
Renowned for her award-winning book So Much!, as well as her eight-year stint as a presenter on the children’s programme Playdays, Cooke explains why she feels storytelling is so important.
“Stories are not only entertaining but they also help us to get a better understanding of life,” says the author, playwright, scriptwriter and actress, who also starred in the BBC drama Casualty. “Both as a storyteller and a listener and viewer of stories, I am continuously marvelled by what is revealed to me through story.
She continues: “The act of storytelling is such a basic and vital part of our culture, and it’s not only the story content that is important, but who we share our stories with and the relationship between the storyteller and their audience.”
Recalling her own experience of being told stories as a child, Cooke, who was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire to Dominican parents, feels that historically, storytellers have a huge role in society.
“When my mum and dad told me stories as a child, it wasn’t just about what they were saying, but more importantly about those moments we shared together. I will always treasure those moments. Back in Dominica, in my mum and dad’s day, the storyteller, or Raconteur, was the main form of entertainment. The stories they told influenced the thinking of the people who listened.
“The audience were made to be part of the story with their call and response input and the stories were about characters that were familiar to them.”
Considering whether the oral storytelling tradition has been lost in modern African and Caribbean families, Cooke says: “I am hoping not. Our elders are passing away and so I am hoping we are passing the stories they told us onto our children and grandchildren. Hopefully in time our grandchildren will pass on the stories to their children and grandchildren. The stories will grow and change as we add and embellish and that’s the nature of story – growth and change.”
In addition to acknowledging the importance of the stories told to youngsters, Cooke, whose 1994 book So Much! won the 0–5 category of the Smarties Book Prize, the She/WH Smith’s Under-Fives Book Prize and the Kurt Maschler Award, also recognises the impact of the images children see. With several of her books featuring illustrations of black children, the author believes it is important for black children to be exposed to books with pictures that reflect their image.
“It’s very important,” confirms the mother-of-two. “The reason being, our books reflect the society we live in and if you are omitted from the books you read, then eventually you will begin to ask questions about why that is.
“As a child, you may not have the tools to understand what you are feeling, but as an adult you become aware of how such an omission can have an effect on you. I think it’s important for children to feel valued and in order to work out your value in society, you have to see where and how you fit in. If from a young age you are omitted, then it is telling you that the society you live in doesn’t value who you are. All children have the right to be valued if we want to shape a cohesive society.”
Considering her hopes for the future, Cooke, whose other books include Full, Full, Full of Love and Hey Crazy Riddle, has many other aspirations – and lots in the pipeline.
“I would like to reach an even wider audience than I do already. So Much has done so well, it has been translated into lots of different languages and I would like more of my books to do the same.
“My son has just graduated and has a BA Hons in digital animation and I would one day like to work with him on something. If he could make one of my books into an animation it would be wonderful!
“I have just finished doing a stint as a story liner with Emmerdale for ITV and I hope to get the opportunity to write some scripts for the programme. I am at present developing a children’s drama idea for CBBC with a company called Actorshop and also working on the Christmas show Dick Whittington for the Theatre Royal Stratford East.”
Asked what advice she would give aspiring children’s authors, she says: “Write. Keep writing. Write more. Don’t give up.”
4 Look Back! is out now through Papillote Press. Visit www.papillotepress.co.uk
For the original report go to http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/kids-love-cooke-book