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Why Yolanda T. Marshall created a picture book about the tastes and sounds of Africa and the Caribbean

The Toronto writer is the author of My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans.
Yolanda T. Marshall is the author of My Soca Birthday Party: With Jollof Rice & Steel Pans. (Chalkboard Publishing, Submitted by Yolanda T. Marshall)

Yolanda T. Marshall was born in Guyana and grew up in Scarborough, surrounded by Caribbean culture. The children's books she writes are full of her love and appreciation for that culture and food is a big part of it.

Her latest book is titled My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans. It's a picture book about a girl named Anne, who, on her birthday, has a wonderful party filled with the food and sounds of Caribbean and African countries.

Marshall spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans.

An interior page from the book My Soca Birthday Party by Yolanda T. Marshall. (Chalkboard Publishing)

The power of food

"Food has been an ongoing theme for most of my books. Growing up, food was a huge part of my home and my family structure. Every time I think about celebrating a birthday, one thing I always look forward to is a cake and what food my mom was going to prepare. It's a big deal for me.

"This book is so important because I find that food is a blueprint in every culture. Food tells a story — a deeper story of how good it is, how well it tastes, how well-preserved it is. Food places you in a country or an atmosphere, an environment or totally different culture when you think of it.

This book is so important because I find that food is a blueprint in every culture.

"I felt that for this story, food, of course, is always a part of a party, but it tells the background of each of these kids and it allows them to form a nice potluck. But what they're really sharing and celebrating is not only the birthday party, but themselves and what they love in their cultures."

An interior page from the book My Soca Birthday Party by Yolanda T. Marshall. (Chalkboard Publishing)

Writing for my son

"My son means a lot to me. He's the reason I started writing. I was looking deeply into books that represent his culture in every way, and not just as a Canadian child. I wanted it to say 'Canadian Black child.' 

I was looking for specific books to represent my son. When I didn't find it, it inspired me to write.

"I was looking for specific books to represent my son. When I didn't find it, it inspired me to write. So when I write, I write with him in mind.

Yolanda T. Marshall's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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