I first stumbled upon Eprjr Island around 2014, on Instagram. Their branding for the mini Trini t-shirts and baby onesies was so adorable and Trini fuh true. Then, the concept of a book that they were planning on publishing about a leatherback back turtle was revealed. Jeunanne Alkins, the author and brand creator, included her followers naming her hero. Later, she settled on the name ‘Hatch’ and her book Ready.Set… Hatch! … hatched. The Tiger Tales reviewed Hatch back in 2015. Esprjr Islands’ and Jeunanne’s story continues to grow. Jeunanne is currently making an animated series called Bim and Bam: The Adventure Series. She’s also a Design Entrepreneur at Everything Slight Pepper. Jeunanne has kindly accepted The Tiger Tales invitation to an online interview. This is Juenanne’s interview.
TTT: Tell us about yourself and your role a Design Entrepreneur?
JA: For the past 15 years I have worked with an eclectic range of clients (from corporate to artisan) to define their competitive advantage and align their company mission with a communication and visual strategy. As a brand designer, much of the challenge working in the Caribbean space involves intervening the “I just need a logo” adhoc approach to design thinking and management, instead a creating a focus on planning and cohesive strategy. Launching the children’s brand “Island Babies” in 2012, has opened up a different space for creativity for me; I am currently in the process of restructuring the studio (Everything Slight Pepper) to focus on providing client work for mission-aligned brands targeting the kids and family market.
TTT: What made you decide to write children’s books?
JA: I really never decided on writing children’s books, it just sort of happened. In 2012, I began work on Machel Montano’s “Boy Boy and the Magic Drum” storybook n Trinidad and Tobago. I thoroughly enjoyed the project, playing with the layout, the rhythm of the type and using of colour to bring the illustrations to life. It opened my eyes to how I could help to make topics come alive for children. Subsequent to this experience, my friends were lobbying to get a law passed to ban the hunting of turtles and ask me to lend my talent to the cause; I designed a kids line of t-shirts using a turtle motif.
My friends were not interested in targeting kids specifically, but I decided to still produce the t-shirts and used them as a tool to create a conversation on social media around the topic of the environment. The favourable response to this design led to other island-themed designs and eventually I was able to save enough to create my first book, on endangered leatherback turtles – Ready. SET… HATCH! Authored and vividly illustrated by myself, the book merges art and a simple story of teamwork that taps into their love of rhythm, sounds and music. Setting the story in a real location enabled me to subtly introduce basic geography and the idea of conservation and preservation of endangered animals to this young audience. The content was heavily researched and is an accurate representation of the real life nesting habit of sea turtles.
The response to the book has been overwhelming, gaining accolades beyond our Caribbean shores and met with enthusiasm by hundreds of young children in school readings. This experience sparked a fire within me to delve further into designing for children, as I both absolutely love it, and I can see direct positive impact of what my talent has allowed me to contribute. Designing education tools that are more enjoyable and accessible for children is now is my key career goal – I’ll continue writing if I have to, but ideally I would love to work with other writers to bring the concepts to life.
TTT: What has been the most rewarding feedback you have had from your young readers, to date?
JA: There have been so many! One that stands out is a reading and character development workshop that I conducted at the Bocas Lit Festival here in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The children were bouncing off the walls! On the second day, one of the teachers came to me and said that her class had asked if they could write essays based on the crazy character we had come up with in the previous day’s session. She was shocked – never before did they ask her for homework!
TTT: Do you have any plans to engage teen readers? If not, why not?
JA: No I don’t, for specific reasons. The first being that I am aiming to instil a love of the environment from the get-go rather than trying to change bad habits later on. To this end, I believe that in Trinidad and Tobago we suffer from gaps between the messages and making sure the audience can relate, and understand. We tend to have a jack-of-all-trades approach to everything. In trying to cast as wide a net as possible, we end up with material that is in the middle and doesn’t serve either side well – too advanced for young children or too ”babyish” for teens. My brand is specially crafted for the under 10s, and as it develops further, it will be defined into 0 months-3 years, 3-5 and 6-9 years; I am focused on the formative years.
TTT: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book writers from the Caribbean?
JA: Read as many picturebooks as possible; Hire an illustrator but most importantly, an editor and a graphic designer. This is one of the major differences I notice between self-published and published books. Especially with stories for younger kids – text length, visual clues for how parents have to read it and turn of page tricks are so important.
TTT: Finish the sentence ‘yuh is ah true trini fuh true if…’
JA: Don’t take no for an answer.