By Stacey Alfonso-Mills, author: One of the best ways to educate ourselves and the rest of the world about T&T, and at the same time preserve our culture and history is through books. This concern fuelled my goal to start writing for children about T&T. I consider this my tiny, but honest contribution to the future development and enrichment of our nation.
First two books written
My first book The Boys of Sinclair Hill – Fun in the Backyard was launched in 2009 and second The Boys of Sinclair Hill – The Princess, The Treasure and The Blue Dragon was launched in 2011. Kenneth Scott of Trinidad and Tobago illustrated both books.
West Indian Manatee, Spectacled Caiman, Red Howler Monkey
My third book Manatee has a Question features five endangered local wildlife animals from the Nariva Swamp – West Indian Manatee, Spectacled Caiman, Red Howler Monkey, Prehensile-tailed Porcupine and Blue and Gold Macaw.
The story encourages wildlife and environmental awareness as it highlights the natural habitat of these animals, the challenges they face and how they interconnect and depend on each other for their survival.
I researched heavily for this book and worked with the President of the Manatee Conservation Trust to ensure that my research was accurately written and illustrated. I also released a colouring book alongside the Manatee has a Question storybook. Christopher Riley also of Trinidad and Tobago illustrated Manatee has a Question.
Feedback that keeps me going
The feedback from readers has been amazing. It truly is what keeps me going back to the storyboard. Researching, writing and self-publishing a children’s book is a very difficult and expensive venture. But each time I attend a school to conduct a book reading of one of my books the response from the children reminds me why this is all worth it.
Children are not only fascinated by books where they can relate to the story in some small way, but they are equally fascinated when the author of the book takes the time to sit and read with them. They ask questions, they contribute to the story, they appreciate the book, the author and the illustrator.
The best feedback I’ve gotten from the children is when they shout out in the class that they have my books at home and they read them all the time or that their parents read my books with them at night.
I received the best feedback from a teacher who told me that she uses all of my books with the students in her remedial reading classes.
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A little about myself
I was born and raised in Trinidad but lived in the US for several years before returning home at the end of 1996. I am married to Julian Mills who is English and we are raising three sons Anthony, Mathew and Alexander.
I am the Managing Director of MAALAN Resources Limited, which is a project management company for the energy sector in T&T. However, my discipline is actually in the Public Relations and Media Relations fields.
I have a MA degree in Mass Communications from University of Leicester, England and offer Communication Consultancy services particularly in the areas of Business Communications, Media Relations, Customer Service and Personal Development. Somewhere in between, I write and self-publish children’s books.
Apart from my collaboration with Bridge Foundation, I continue to attend schools for book readings. Earlier this year I read Manatee Has a Question for the Grades 1, 2 and 3 at Maple Leaf International School.
In April 2014, I visited Trimont College (a private primary and secondary school in Glencoe), to present a complimentary copy of Manatee has a Question to the Principal Mr Herman Rodriguez and Librarian Mrs Diasie Sammy-Christopher. I also shared photo opportunities with the Primary 1 and Primary 4 students.
I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Writer’s Digest so I tap into any and all resources available from these groups to ensure that I am using the appropriate principles for writing a children’s book. The information is endless, there is always something new to learn or incorporate in the next book, so I read a lot of material.
At the end of April, I was asked to judge the Junior and Senior story submissions for Children’s Illustrated Storybook category for Maple Leaf International School’s Writing Competition. I have always loved reading and writing. When I attended St Theresa’s Girls’ RC School, the primary school subjects encouraged and inspired early literacy in children. My favourite subjects were Poetry, Creative Writing, Vocabulary, Grammar, Spelling, and Art. These subjects also influenced Public Speaking (composing and reciting), which further develops presentation of speech and creative thinking.
Support from my family
To ensure that the theme of my story and the story line are going in the right direction, I also rely on my family for feedback. My husband Julian and older son Anthony are great at reviewing the overall presentation, but my younger sons Mathew and Alexander tell me whether it’s a book they would read as a kid.
Writing is therapeutic
To me, writing is so therapeutic. Most people feel that writing is just for others to read. But writing is also a great way to express yourself – just for you. And this can be done by writing song lyrics, poetry, short stories, play writing and of course journals.
My advice to you
I would advise anyone wanting to express themselves through writing to “just start” writing! If a person does not know what to write about, the best place to start is with yourself – your personal experiences, what’s happening around you, your desires, goals or fears, even what you’ve learnt from other people’s experiences. What’s more is that social media is a hot bed of ideas for stories with many ideas on how to communicate them.
Author Stacey Alfonso-Mills launched her children’s illustrated storybook titled “Manatee has a Question” on Wednesday April 16, 2014. The book launch was held in the children’s library section at the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.
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Article first published June 2014 – Issue 10. Updated February 2017 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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