Jamaica (A True Book), by Ann Heinrichs
One of the fascinating thing that results from reading a few books on the same subject is just how often the same few subjects are covered over and over again. Sometimes one even notes that different books among them share photographs from other books, a sign of the great deal of borrowing and copying that results from different people trying to capture the same market of young readers seeking to better understand the nations of the world, quite possibly for school assignments. One of the joys of traveling for me, personally, is reading about what other people think is important to know about a country. It is easy enough to see why someone would want to help others to know more about Jamaica, even though the general outlines of this particular story are familiar to me both from my frequent travels in and readings about the Caribbean and because there are so many parallels between the history of Jamaica and that of other colonies where sugar was important, where there was a slow growth towards democracy, and where the post-independence life of the country has had both a great deal of struggle and high expectations among the people themselves.
This book is about 50 pages long or so and is divided into several sections that demonstrate the author’s intents in writing about certain aspects of the nation of Jamaica. The book begins with a look at the beaches, mountains and forests that can be found in the country. After that there is a discussion of Jamaica’s history as a long road to freedom, rather striking given that it was first settled by the Spanish in the late 15th century on one of Columbus’ voyages, conquered by the English in the seventeenth century, and only achieved its independence in 1962, about 125 years or so after its slaves were freed and less than two decades after having begun responsible self-government with a widespread franchise. The author discusses the people of Jamaica, who are unsurprisingly black or mixed-race to a very high degree. The author discusses the many riches of the country, including its bauxite ores, as well as the fun, food, and folklore of the island, which includes various syncretic and West African faiths as well as Christianity. There is a section where one can find out more, learn some important words in the local creole language, as well as an index and some information about the author.
By and large, this is a book that can be said to if not whitewash Jamaica for its contemporary issues, certainly airbrushes certain unpleasant aspects of the nation’s politics and high crime rate (for example) to make it appealing for the presumably American reader. The fact that the book is part of a series that labels itself as a true book is perhaps a bit disingenuous, but few people would celebrate reading a “partial” book, it must be admitted. I found the book moderately enjoyable to read even though I knew that the book was far from providing a full account of Jamaica and even among books for children was only somewhat middling in the content it provided, having seen some books supply a more complete picture that interested me more and other books providing less information in a more simplistic form that provided even less than this one did. If you are a young reader and you want to know enough about Jamaica to do one’s homework assignment on a country, this book will probably do the trick, although it should be noted that one can do better than this book if one searches harder.