Author Uses a Little Magic to Reach Children With Literacy

June 27, 2009

author charles campbell

Charles Campbell

June 25, 2009



Author Charles Campbell says his life mission is to help children in urban communities to realize and value their self-worth. He accomplishes his mission through reading literature and creative writing.
Poss. ghanaian grandmother
“Children today are acting out because they can’t read and write,” said Campbell, author of the children’s fantasy trilogy, “The Magic Coin.” “They have a talent for song and dance, but that’s something that goes back to slavery when we were denied to read and write.”

The longtime teacher introduced “The Magic Coin” series after failing to reach a group of students in creative writing at a Savannah, Ga., elementary school where he taught.

“I was teaching fourth- and fifth-grade students. The kids weren’t getting it. They could barely write a sentence, and didn’t know how to write a basic five-paragraph essay,” Campbell said. “They got so frustrated; I threw away my lesson plan.

“To get their attention I told this fake story about a boy who found a gold coin in his pants and how it magically turned into fire. What I noticed was how their eyes widened. They wanted to know what happened next. They enjoyed the storytelling.”

That was nine years ago. Campbell has since launched Black Butterfly Inc. to enrich the lives and self-esteem of urban communities through literature.

He also turned the impromptu story he told in class that day into the self-published “The Magic Coin” trilogy, which has managed to help more than 200 youths with creative writing and literary analysis. Under Campbell’s leadership, Black Butterfly operates with a staff of four: two illustrators, a creative consultant, and an educator and Spanish translator.

“We’ve rarely seen African Americans or Hispanics as the central protagonist in a fantasy novel. And if you don’t see yourself in a book, it’s not as exciting,” Campbell said. “I decided to use fantasy as an educational tool to teach the basic tools of creative writing and encourage children in urban communities to step out of their comfort zones.”

The first novel in “The Magic Coin” trilogy is being used as a reading component in Los Angeles-area schools and Savannah. It is featured as the primary reading tool in Campbell’s Reading, Writing and Conflict Resolution Power Workshops. Campbell conducts his workshops at local schools to help students with creative writing and literature training, tutoring and mentoring in self-esteem enhancement. The second and third books of the trilogy are expected to be released in 2010.

“I learned that most kids, no matter what school they attend, do not like writing. Many teachers use writing as a disciplinary tool and it becomes associated with something negative, and a psychological issue,” Campbell said. “Like some teachers might have a student write sentences ‘x’ amount of times just for chewing gum. In short, children associate writing to being punished. Writing should be something fun and enjoyable.”

The schools that order Campbell’s books for their creative writing curriculum are provided with his literary power workshops free of charge, and they are arranged daily, weekly or bi-weekly, based upon the school’s need and structure. Campbell said it usually takes about a year to get through “The Magic Coin” and its lecture series because the workshop is woven into a school day or after school program.

“His books are phenomenal and the kids and parents love them,” Jacqueline Sanderlin, principal of GeorgeWashington Carver Elementary School in Compton, said in an e-mail, adding the school purchases the books for their fourth- and fifth-grade students.

She said the students’ reading scores have doubled and their writing has greatly improved.

“This has been an effective intervention for our scholars who are reading about a young, black hero,” she said. “His discussions have a lot of engagement, excitement and interaction. I find that the students exemplify the behavior of the characters in their daily lives.”

Campbell’s literary power workshops include sentence construction; fundamentals of essay writing; spelling punctuation; literary analysis; penmanship; fantasy writing exercises; writing competitions; listening and public speaking skills; and a special exercise that he refers to as peacekeeping, which essentially is conflict resolution.

“My passion is with helping kids to increase literacy levels in reading, writing and self-esteem,” Campbell said. “I hope kids who see an out through soaring on the b-ball court or in a hip-hop video, might soar through a love for reading and writing. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

For more information about Campbell’s Reading, Writing and Conflict Resolution Power Workshops, call (323) 216-4772.

Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me


The Sounds of a Gemelan Orchestra will always remind me of graceful Balinese Dancers

June 25, 2009


Dance and the all pervasive sound of gamalan orchestras drifting through the perfumed air will forever remain for me an enduring memory of the Indonesian island of Bali. I remember the orchestras mainly as an accompaniment to dance and theatrical events.

In Yogyakarta the performers are young girls from the royal family or the nobility.They must be virgins and as soon as they start to menstruate they must retire. As they perform rarely these days some girls will only ever be seen at practice but they will never dance officially in public.

One evening I went to Peliatan village near Ubud for a performance by the Mekar Sari ladies orchestra and children’s dancing group.It is very unusual to have a womans gamelan group. The ladies were in their middle years and obviously loved playing. The girls scattered flower petals to welcome the audience. Then came the Baris (a warrior dance) this time enacted by a boy of about eleven. He gave a magnificent performance. I had seen a performance by a woman at the palace in Ubud.

Then we watched Tari Kelinci which was about rabbits. This is a recent piece created by a graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts. It was perfectly suited to children and had great charm.

This was followed by Tari Tenun which was about weaving. It portrayed how the balinese prepare threads then how they warp the loom.

The finale was Tari Kijang, Kencana about a golden deer. All the children taking part were dressed in beautiful colours and expensive materials. A family has to be relatively affluent to send a child to classes because of the high cost of the costumes.

I also watched a weekly session at the palace.The girls practiced to a cassette recording. To my surprise the teacher demonstrated with her back to the girls and never turned round or corrected them.There were no mirrors so perhaps it was more important that the children learned through watching her back view. As far as I could make out the most experienced girls were in the front line with beginners at the very back. The girls appeared to be in the 5-15 year old range. They wore cloths tied over lycra pedal-pushers and didn’t look in the least bit picturesque. There were far fewer boys to be seen.

In the evening I went to a a village outside Kuta for a Kecak performance. Unusually there is no musical accompaniment but about thirty men established a rhythm by chanting “kecak kecak and this provided the background music.

Sanghyang dedari was performed by two little girls (approximately six and nine years old) who in a trance mirrored each others movements. Their eyes were wide open but we were told that they saw nothing. At the conclusion of the dance they were brought out of by a white-clad priest who sprinkled holy water on them.

There was a very spectacular presentation of Sanghyang Jaran where a young man again in a trance and wearing a hobby horse belt woven from coconut fronds danced on burning embers. The belt featured a woven horse-like head and palm fronds hung down all the way round it. The priest put the young man into trance. He stomped and jumped around in the fire. The burning husks were raked together and he repeated the performance. The third time he actually sat on the embers and rolled around. At some crucial point, not identifiable to those of us watching, he was pulled clear.A fellow performer seated behind held the young man as he came out of the trance.

I have been very interested to learn that there are no clearly defined male and female roles in Balinese dance.Women can perform the Baris whose choreography depicts a warrior and boys can perform Leggong with their female counterparts. Who performs what seems to depend partly on the energies and in the case of boys that they are very feminine in their looks and movements. I have seen Baris performed by a girl and you would not have guessed this from her performance. Only once have I knowingly seen a boy amongst a group of girls. The only thing that made me wonder if the performer was male were the slight difference in height and the larger hands and feet. Otherwise he was indistinguishable.

Balinese dance is fascinating to watch and while unique shows its links to other South East Asian countries. I would love to visit again

Did You Like that Poem?

June 24, 2009

Nuna sorry note0001

I remember, as if it were yesterday, how my Enlgish teacher extracted a handkerchief from her bag before reading the words
“The boy stood on the burning deck
Where all but he had fled” (Casabianca by Mrs Felicia Dorothea Hermans) She confessed that this poem always made her cry. I found poetry very evocative at that time too.
“Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill
The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming …” The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes had me riding in my imagination with the Highwayman having anticipated the terrible denouement of the poem.
“Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti evoked the most phantasmagoric images in my mind.
I liked it when we “did” poetry because even then I realized its’ appreciation required both intellect and emotion.

In my children’s gneration great emphasis was laid on getting children to write poetry. The following poem was written by my eldest son aged eleven. It doesn’t have a title.

I toil and I toil to get it ready
At last it is ready and I go back for tea
Later that day I go back to see if it has survived
And I see the greedy sea has taken away my sand city
Washed it completely away
Just leaving a desolate beach
And I walk back sadly
thinking about my sand city.

The next two poems were written by my daughter when she was ten.

The Sea Shells

The Shells I like are all over the land
Oh! so elegant and so grand
Smooth, spikey, hollow and bumpy
I’m so happy no one should be grumpy.

Rainbows inside the mothers of pearls,
Some shells have got the most amazing twirls.
Sandy ones pulled up at night.

I like shells
They don’t have any smells –
Because their washed clean
By the friendly waters.

Another of the many poems she wrote is
A Travelling Child

Everywhere people stared,
Looking at our tattered clothes.
No one seems to like us much,
We stopped in front of a big house
The people said you awful people

The next day when I went to school,
The children there called me names,
Like, you are nasty and very cruel.
As I was walking home,
Three girls came by and took me there.

Now we know that gypsies are not welcome
In and about other peoples’ homes
Only a few children like us here
And let us play their games.
Its’ hard being a gypsy you know!

My youngest son made up many poems and he also painted and drew a lot. He wrote this poem about a bee when he was eight.

The Humble Bee

Through the garden
While the summer sun
Beats down
on your coat
of golden Brown.

All day long
you come and go
Where the shining
Blossoms blow,
sipping every sweet
you see
Rumble, tumble
Humble bee!

I like the directness, freshness and observations the children made. The poem about the sand city certainly shows an understanding of the transcience of the material world.

I don’t often write poetry. The following poem came to me after seeing a young man who perhaps had full blown AIDS begging on the Tube in London.


He appeared on the Tube Train as if apported from the Land of Death

A pale, shaven-headed cadaver, veins knotted,sinewy, silted , stagnant rivers

“I’m sorry to bother you” he said sofltly, well-spoken “but…….”

A skeletal hand mechanically brings a paper cup into eyeline sight

Rustling in pockets and purses confirms our recognition of Death

We do our best to alleviate his one way journey

Following the beckoning hand of Death.

Dzagbe Cudjoe

My Life as Reader and Writer

June 18, 2009


I started writing my first novel at age thirteen. It was written in a school exercise book with a fountain pen. Enid Blyton was my major influence at the time which was why I asked my sister to cut my hair short like the character George. George was in fact a girl called Georgina who wanted to do boys’ things. I also longed to go to boarding school. If I remember correctly my novel was abandoned half finished. Some years later Enid Blyton’s books fell out of favour only to be rediscovered later by a new generation of readers.

I read fiction avidly in my school and university years. University years were spent in Germany where I read a certain number of German classics. I returned to West Africa. Then came an extended period when the range of fiction in English was limited, not easy to find and books were very expensive.Television was in its infancy and was of no interest to me. So I read a lot of books both to myself and my children.

On relocating to England the emphasize of my reading became practical as I struggled to change direction on many levels.

I’ve now reached grandmother age and have returned to childrens’ books this time as an author. My book of childrens’ stories “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” was published last year. Up until then I had never read about or taken courses on creative writing. I had simply gone ahead and written. But I did realize that there was room for considerable improvement. It was at this point that I came across the excellent e-mail and on-line creative writing courses run by Rob Parnell and Robyn Opie. Robyn is an extremely successful author of childrens’ books.

To my delight I found that I already used the inspirational New Age techniques recommended by Rob. Personally the most valuable parts of the course have been those dealing with editing and producing a publishable manuscript.

Both Rob and Robyn are friendly, approchable people keen to lend a helping hand and pass on their expertise. Course prices are very reasonable and the courses deliver all that is promised. Due to their influence my writing in the future will have improved.

In the mean time I go on reading, writing and learning.
Rob Parnell
Robyn Opie
5-4-2009 047

Enjoy an Extract from the DVD "Dance in Our Footsteps"

June 16, 2009

This DVD Dance Video offers a demonstration of the featured dances. It is not intended as a conventional instructional product. Enjoy yourself while experiencing the de-stressing and exhilarating effects of African dance. Try and copy the dancers if you wish or just use their movements and the music to inspire you to create your own authentic, original dance. But most importantly have fun and if possible have a party at the same time.


Review of “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” by Dzagbe Cudjoe

June 11, 2009

A review of Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe
Posted by: PEAdmin on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 – 11:28 AM Print article Printer-friendly page Email to a friend Send this story to someone
Reviews of Books
Reviewed by Teresa Aguilar

Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me
by Dzagbe Cudjoe
Strategic Book Publishing
Paperback: 52 pages, October 8, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-1934925874

Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe is overall a well written collection of stories. The Author shows imagination and creativity , a natural story-teller. This is intended to be a children’s book, but I found that it was a little too detailed for a younger child to read without getting distracted. I would recommend this book for children age 9 and up.

A very nice dedication to the author’s father included, and the book design was excellent. The picture included in the first story may be too scary for some younger children but all the others pictures would catch a child’s interest. I would have liked to have read more about the author to get a sense of her connection with Ghanaian culture. I hope in her next book she includes a photo and a little background information on herself. These stories are from the mind of the Author, but reading them you would think they were really stories passed down through generations.

The first story in this book is “The Wicked Curse of Nibobobo” about a young man Fetu who wanted to marry Niniana a girl in his village but his father forbade him. The trouble that results from a curse made in revenge by Nibobobo, the mother of Niniana, affects the whole village. Fetu, Niniana, and a third character Ade then volunteer to take on the task of going to Great-Spirit-Who-Created-All-That-Is-On-This-Earth to remove the curse affecting the village. The three must pass all the trials given to them on their journey to prove themselves worthy of the great spirits help.

The next story “Akua’s Foolish Wish” went into too much detail on the making of clay pots and a child may lose interest in the story before they get to the actual story line of Akua. Once it goes into the story of Akua and her wish that the commemorative figure she has made of a great chief can speak then the story moves along well. The story is humorous and children will enjoy the rest of the tale.

“The Fingers of Fire story” is, by far, my favorite story in the whole book. A tale of Falisimu and his growing up in his Uncle Bendu’s home. The story describes how he came into his uncle’s care and met Laliya a girl close to Falisimu’s age. It goes into detail of what the lives of the children and adults were like in Northern Ghana which was interesting. It is an imaginative and spiritual story of two children creating an invention with the help of voices of fire and earth and finding out it’s use for the good of all.

The final story “Journey To The Chest Of Gold” was rather odd and out of place compared with the other stories in this book. I didn’t get the point of time traveling school trips and being invisible. Time travel can be interesting as a story in itself but compared with the other stories it did not fit with the tales a grandmother would tell about myths and legends of Ghanaian culture. The talking gold weights made no sense whatsoever to me either. A child might enjoy the inanimate objects talking to one another but overall the tale was just strange. But the last three photos at the end of this story including actual gold weights was a surprising bonus.

About the reviewer: Teresa Aguilar is a stay-at-home mom who lives near Lake Fork in Emory, Texas. Married for over 17 years with three children, the whole family shares a interest in books of all genres. She aspires to own a book shop of her own one day. Her time is spent raising her children and her miniature dachshunds and one orange tabby cat. She also tries to grow trees in clay, and finally having some success, maybe to have some shade in the future to read under. She would also like to say thank you to her cousin Jeanneta who read “The Hobbit” to her when she was a small child and started her love affair with books. compressed resized
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Children have Educational and Creative Fun using their Favorite Book as the Basis of a Board Game

June 10, 2009

“Journey to Gameland: How to make a Board Game from Your Favorite Children’s Book” by Ben Buchanan, Carol J. Adams, Susan Allison and Doug Buchanan” (Paperback) encourages both education and fun. Reading becomes the basis for creating a board game.

I gave this book to two girls aged ten and eight in South Africa and they just loved it! The following two reviewers are of the same opinion.

:5.0 out of 5 stars For kids, by a kid — this is a great activity book, August 24, 2003
By Diane C. Howard (Burlington, Iowa, United States) –

Written by a kid (with adult help) and illustrated by the kid’s brother, JTG is a remarkable way to encourage creativity and get kids to do something besides watch TV or play on the computer.
This isn’t an adult book, so some of the advice (how to make money, pawns, etc) might make grown-ups cringe and cry out that it is too crude or unfinished. So what? We’re talking make-believe.
Buchanan goes step by step, offering advice and warning where difficulties might come in. His technique is simple and obvious, and any child can modify his advice to suit (soccer, favorite movie, family things). He even includes a super book list!
I bought this book at a local bookstore and even though I have no kids and have nobody to play board games with I think this is easily a five-star book. You can even use it as a birthday party event (directions included).
This is a marvelous edition to a family, school or church library. You won’t be sorry.

5.0 out of 5 stars From the Board Games Editor at, January 31, 2006
By Megan Romer (Ithaca, NY) –
This book teaches your child how to make a board game based on their favorite book, and it’s interactive, like a workbook.

The premise of the book is fun. Instead of being a standard workbook, it’s written in a style that mimics an actual journey, with “Postcards” that your child will fill in and “Guideposts”, which are for the parent or teacher to read.

While a child reading and discovering this book will probably be gently tricked into thinking that they’re doing nothing but having fun, as a parent or teacher, you’ll realize how much they’re getting out of the activity! They’re thinking critically about their chosen book, finding ways to adapt it into a game using math and logic, and being artistic! What more can you ask?

This book is a great resource for kids who can’t get enough of their favorite book, for parents who are trying to teach their child how to think critically about literature, and for teachers to help provide inspiration.

Come and See Flamenco Dancing in Andalucia, Spain

June 9, 2009

May and June are wonderful months to visit Andalusia if you want to see dancing. This is the period when “Feria” (the Spring Fairs) are held. It is a time of eating, drinking, riding in carriages and dancing.

The vast majority of women and children wear the traditional flounced Flamenco dresses and decorate their hair with combs and flowers.They look stunning. Everyone dances with totally unselfconscious enjoyment. It is beautiful to watch parents and grandparents enthusiastically encouraging children as young as two years old to dance. Older women often stand by approvingly as their husbands dance with a young woman to help her improve her technique.

“Feria” is a time when it is obvious to all what a deep and ever evolving hold dance has in this part of the world.

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The Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week by Nicolette Jones

June 9, 2009

Pongwiffyt Back on Track by Kaye Umansky Bloomsbury £5.99 ages 7-10

This is the seventh tale of a smelly witch, who first appeared 21 years ago, and it is funny. Funniest, perhaps, to read aloud. In the opening chapter, the noisome witch lounges about eating toffees while her long-suffering, heavily accented familiar (and the most likeable character) Hugo the Hamster (from ‘Amsterdam) raises the idea of getting fit. From there, it is a riot of silly voices, good bad puns, daft situations and comic caricatures. Pongwiffy persuades the witches, familiars, skeletons, trolls, zombies, banshees and other supernatural types of Witchway Wood to enter an )’Lumpicks (sports day) in the reluctant king’s gardens. Added to the brew are a goblin who becomes a nanny, a preening TV star, fungus sponge, skunk stew and a lot of sweets. Everything comes together with clever timing, even if it looks like a collapsing rugby scrum, and we all learn that exercise in moderation is a “good sing”, as Hugo would say. So is this book

Tales my Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me by Dzagbe Cudjoe
Dance to Health
Dance in Our Footsteps

Which Way is West African English developing?

May 19, 2009

I have been wondering how long it will be before it’s possible to select “West African Enlgish” as the language option on a computer. After all there’s already a choice of English English, American English, South African English and Caribbean English on offer.

I’m now old enough to look quite some way back and see how many things have changed, developed and evolved. My father, who was Ghanaian , wrote and spoke Enlgish as any highly educated English person would. How one spoke English at that time reflected a person’s class and education.

English was not my father’s mother tongue. He had first learnt English at school. This was still the case when I attended secondary school in Ghana. One classmate spoke eight Ghanaian languages as well as extremely good English. His father had been a government official who had been transferred all over the country so his son had been forced to learn new languages if he wanted to fit into his new surroundings.

The syllabus in my exam years was set in England where the papers were also marked. English grammar and English Literature were two distinct subjects. Grammar and spelling had to be correct. At “A” level Chaucer’s “Pardonner’s Tale” from the “Canterbury Tales” was one of our set texts. We studied the work and quoted from it in the Middle English of Chaucer’s original work. Bearing in mind that Chaucer’s dates are c1343-1400 this was asking rather a lot from West African students who had probably never travelled very fr within their own coutries to say nothing of “overseas”.the setting up of West African Examination Boards led to a welcome and very necessary africanization of various syllabuses.

These days educated parents speak English as well as an African language to their children from their babyhood.The daughter of a friend of mine grew up speaking English, Yoruba and Ibo (both Nigerian languages) as well as Ga (a Ghanaian language) spoken by the neighbours. She was completely aware that they were separate languages and did not mix them up.

There was a peirod when it was fashionable to be introducing English words unnecessarily into conversations in the local languages. “Pidgeon” English has existed in West Africa for hundreds of years. It was a lingua france for trade for people who otherwise didn’t have a common language. It is now accepted that “pidgeon” is a language in its own right and not just a bastardized form of English. It has not been a written literary language.

West African English now has many grammatical constructions which are accepted as correct but which strictly speaking are ungrammatical. Words are also given very different meaning. I’m very interested in how this is going to impact on contemporary writing. Are some West African authors going to be forced to have their work rewritten into standard English before it is pulished for a wider audience or are we going to have books with copious explanatory footnotes.

I would be interested in wht young African authors have to say on the subject.