Six Caribbean writers from across the Caribbean have been longlisted for the inaugural Bocas Children’s Book Prize, with tales that bring magic, folklore and real historical events to life for the region’s young readers. Sponsored by the Unit Trust Corporation, the prize is the first of its kind, recognizing Caribbean books for young independent readers ages seven through 12.

Of the six writers up for the award, three are from Jamaica, while the other three are from Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The competition was open to English-language books published, including self-published, between January 2020 and July 2021, written by a single author who either holds Caribbean citizenship or was born in the Caribbean. A total of 21 submissions were received from across the region including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guyana and Hait. From the U.S. Virgin Islands, “King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender made the longlist, which includes six titles.

The judges’ longlist selections are now before a young reader, 14-year-old Clarisse Kem Lee-Sing, who will make comments and help select the shortlist, which will be announced later this month.

Head Judge Joan Osborne, renowned storyteller and retired deputy Executive Director at NALIS, commented that the selection process “was similar to trying to select six of the most beautiful flowers from a garden of rare blooms. Caribbean literature for young readers, while it is growing, is still not in great abundance, so the delicate offerings from our talented writers must be appreciated.”

The prize emerged from the observation of the sparsity of books coming out of the region for Caribbean children in the critical reading age of seven to 12. Books for younger children are mainly picture books which parents read to and with their children. From about age seven, children should be moving on to less illustrated books, which they read on their own. By age eleven, their books should be narrative-led.

“The Unit Trust Corporation is pleased to contribute to the development of literature for Caribbean young readers by providing the $1,000 prize in its first year,” Unit Trust Corporation Vice President of Marketing and Operations Natasha Davis said. “The prize aims to recognize and celebrate excellent writing and intriguing storytelling that can capture young imaginations and help establish a lifelong love and habit of reading in this very important age group.”