The gift of gratitude. That’s what actress Penelope Spencer hopes to give children this Christmas with her upcoming book Toy Troubles.

Spencer has crafted a tale of haves and have-nots she hopes will awaken a greater appreciation in young readers to the privileges they enjoy in their own lives. The book, meant for three- to ten-year-olds, is inspired by both children lucky enough to get gifts at this time of year and those who make the best of their unfortunate circumstances.

“I decided to write Toy Troubles because I realised that kids weren’t putting any value on their toys. It would be thrown in a corner days after Christmas or birthdays or whatever occasion it was given. Knowing that there are so many children who couldn’t afford toys and are left without, affected me. My imagination went crazy and I began to write,” Spencer told the Kitcharee on Friday.

Spencer said she is heartened to see the joy and creativity of less fortunate children making the best of any present they receive at this time of year. She believes putting their experience into perspective can help her young readers see the broader picture.

“Inspiration came from seeing those that didn’t have toys. Seeing how creative they would become with a simple stick or a box. Toys were suddenly created and those toys are treasured while some kids take all their toys for granted, no regards for the finances and time it took to get,” she lamented.

An educator at Necessary Arts theatre, Spencer says it’s a much-needed lesson that some adults can also benefit from during the testing days ahead presented by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is a story for kids and adults because Santa has a special message for the parents in it,” she winked.

“It also speaks to parents who use toys to bargain with their children, to those who bribe the kids with toys and those that reward bad behaviour with toys,” she added.

More local stories for children needed

There is a great need for more locally produced literature for children, Spencer said. Toy Troubles will be published and distributed by Virago Global publishing of which Spencer is a member.

The multiple Cacique Award winner says she plans to do more writing for children and has also set her sights on completing a book of poetry, spoken word and monologues.

“Being one of the members of a new publishing company in Trinidad and Tobago has encouraged me to write more, especially for children. The sky’s the limit. My next venture is writing a book of poetry. Empowering poems for girls...well children, but mostly girls. My Virago sisters are motivating me,” she chuckled.

Spencer laughed even more when asked about the possibility of Toy Troubles being taken to the stage musing that “it would make a great children’s play”.

“A production is always at the top of my head. The story (Toy Troubles) will make a great children’s play. (But) sponsorship has been a task in this pandemic. Doing this production, the way I see it with lights, costumes, set and music on a big stage with children in the audience eating popcorn as they are entertained while being taught about love, gratitude and consequences? Wow, that’s the ideal dream. Maybe in a couple years after this madness that is Covid-19 and all its variants. Fingers crossed,” she added.

Longing for the stage

Despite those challenges, however, Spencer says returning to the stage in some form remains high on her to-do list. Pandemic restrictions permitting, she plans to stage the comedic production Ladies Room this February.

“Getting back on the stage is high on our list. This virus has done the theatre industry in. We’ve had to be creative to stay afloat. It’s sad to see so many artistes leaving our shores to make a living, but I totally understand. it’s a survival game.

“We are praying things get better and soon, so we can get back to some level of normalcy because our lives have been on hold for almost two years. We need to get back to what we love. We want to distract our audiences from the Covid with a good laugh, a good hold-your-belly kind of laugh...we need to get back to life,” Spencer said.

Until then she reckons her book or any book for that matter is a must get for any child this Christmas.

“As a storytelling teacher at Newtown Girls’ (RC School) for over 20 years, I know and understand the importance of reading. I’ve seen how children have grown from continuous reading. So I’m suggesting this Christmas that parents buy a book for their children, at least one. It’s great insurance for your child’s future,” she concluded.

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