'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Junior Guest Post: Nia Shetty in Conversation with Noel-Andrew Bennett and Roxanne Bennett

Today, our revered Junior Reviewer, Nia Shetty, invites us into conversation with the creators of Jerk Chicken Magic.  Nia's review of their richly illustrated, culturally diverse picture book appeared last week. Enjoy this equally significant and genuine discussion about Celebrating Cultural Heritage and Family Stories.

In a world where diversity is budding into literature, authors Noel-Andrew Bennett and Roxanne Bennett shine a vibrant light with their delightful children's book, Jerk Chicken Magic. In an exclusive interview, the duo shared insights into their creative process, the challenges they faced, and how they created a wholesome book with deeper implications. As an immigrant child myself, I know the importance of these books and teaching children about cultural consciousness at a young age. 

From the beginning of our conversation, it was clear that Noel-Andrew and Roxanne's passion for their cultural heritage was embedded into each page of their work. Drawing inspiration from their Jamaican roots and immigrant experiences in Canada, the couple set out to fill a void they noticed in children's literature. With two young children themself, they aimed to create a children’s book filled with vivid imagery that not only celebrated Jamaica but also resonated with immigrant families worldwide.

The significance of jerk chicken to Jamaican culture served as the foundation for their storytelling. By centering their story around this iconic dish, the authors also hoped to capture the attention of a global audience.

“The significance of Jerk Chicken to Jamaican culture is deeply ingrained. It's not just a dish; it's a symbol, akin to reggae music and track and field,” Noel-Andrew said.

Roxanne and Noel-Andrew described it as a cornerstone of Jamaican culture. Jerk chicken is a conversation starter, a dish that transcends borders and is widely recognized across the globe.

However, bringing Jerk Chicken Magic to life wasn't without its challenges. As self-published authors, Noel-Andrew and Roxanne navigated the complexities of the publishing world independently. They aimed to find a balance between celebrating their culture and creating a story with an underlying, broader message. They relied on honest feedback from friends and family while maintaining the authenticity of their vision. Their unwavering determination and belief in their story is what made this book such a treat.

The main layout for the visuals came from Noel-Andrew who has a background in design, but a unique aspect of their creative process was the use of AI technology in their illustration—showing the power of modern innovation in storytelling. Roxanne and Noel-Andrew worked tirelessly to make sure that elements such as skin color were preserved when testing out this technology.

Beyond their current success with the book, Noel-Andrew and Roxanne envision a future where Jerk Chicken Magic expands into other avenues, such as audio books and animated adaptations. Their ultimate goal is to continue advocating for diverse voices and narratives to be heard not only through their own work but by empowering others to share their stories. 

Reflecting on their journey, the couple offered advice to aspiring authors, emphasizing the importance of authenticity, simplicity, and perseverance.

"Don't overthink it," Noel-Andrew advised. "Just put one foot in front of the other and keep jotting notes down."

As our discussion came to a close, I could tell that Noel-Andrew and Roxanne Bennett poured their passion for cultural representation into their storytelling. Through Jerk Chicken Magic, they have not only created a heartwarming tale for children but have paved the way for the genre to be more inclusive and diverse. With their sights set on the future, this dynamic duo is poised to inspire generations to come.

Nia is a young Texan from the US who has been reviewing her favourite genre with us since 2021. She is an avid reader, a budding author of poems and short stories, a literacy ambassador, and a magazine copywriter and editor who loves relaxing with TV shows and books. Nia can also be found swimming competitively. In 2020, during the start of the pandemic, she started reviewing books @niaspage2page to encourage others to read, and she runs book drives to help her community. Discover more about Nia in her fabulous 12 Curly Questions Interview. Read Nia's full review of Jerk Chicken Magichere.