A video of a child growing up in the San Juan community plays on a screen. Romanesque columns line either side of a well-lit stage and dancers can be seen peeking out from behind.
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Vibrant intro to old-time mas
In the preface of her book, The Carnival Suite, Virginia Pacifique-Marshall says, “It is hoped that this book will… create greater interest in our traditional mas, and serve as a catalyst for discussion and research.
“Let us keep the characters meaningfully alive.”
This is the prelude to a colourful presentation of old-time Carnival characters including bookman, jab jab, jab molassie, midnight robber, pierrot grenade and baby doll as well as various old-time Carnival bands: Indians, sailors and minstrels.
The author introduces young readers to fascinating information about Carnival characters and their history. She even includes important, detailed information about how these characters dress. Pacifique-Marshall credits all the information as well, which is important in any nonfiction book—even children’s books.
This is a book that is meant to appeal mostly to children. The author certainly grabs their attention with a bold and colourful presentation. The hard cover and glossy illustrations attest to the physical quality of the book.
Sometimes, however, the pages are too busy to keep children’s attention. The effect of the paint splashes on each page with writing is questionable. They are often distracting—especially when they cover words. A few, strategically placed paint splashes on a page would have been more effective. Sometimes less really is more.
At the bottom of each page with written information, there is a statement about the character that is distracting and difficult to read because of two different font sizes and many different coloured words. Children do like consistency and predictability in terms of layout. It would have been better to highlight some salient point about the character in a simple, bold direct manner.
Pictures are often facing off of the page and this carries the reader’s attention away from the text. Italics is always difficult to read. It would be better to use a different font for Robber speeches and other quotes.
Flaws aside, this is a book that meets the author’s hopes of providing material for discussion and research—especially since the author acknowledges her own research.
Pacifique Marshall’s love for art, Carnival and old-time Carnival characters is certainly evident in this book—not just for the pictures of her paintings that are included, but also for her vivid text explaining the characters.
This would be a great resource for primary school students but primary schoolteachers will need to explain the statement made about sexual exploitation in the section about the Baby Doll. That is not to say it shouldn’t be covered, just in a more age-appropriate manner.
The Carnival Suite is published by StarApple Publishing, which also published the book 1990 by journalist Dennis McComie; the children’s book Carlton and the Dolphin and Tilly the Turtle: Two stories for children by Clive Borely as well as Landscape with Heron and Voyages by the late Trinidadian author and journalist Wayne Brown.
The Carnival Suite will spark discussion and it will introduce children to Carnival history so that they can, hopefully, keep the Carnival of bygone years alive, just as the author had hoped.