As an educator, Meiling Lee Wohing sees first hand, many of the challenges faced by the young people with whom she interacts on a daily basis, especially in this social media era. She recently published a children’s novella, Willow the White Hummingbird, which she believes has the potential to help young readers navigate some of those challenges and hopes it can be used as a platform to launch other similar projects.
“Ironically they (young people) have ready access to all sorts of connectivity, yet they still have difficulty communicating in a true, authentic way. I believe that a product like this book can help all children to develop a greater sense of self and more importantly, self-assurance.”
Set in Maracas Valley, Trinidad, the novella takes readers on many adventures with Willow, a young white hummingbird. Lee Wohing said it is the first of a three-part series for children ages eight to 12.
“But it speaks to the inner child of any adult who is willing to listen.”
Lee Wohing has been tutoring children of varying ages for over two decades, although she never had any intention of becoming an educator. The plan was always to become a writer and to publish a children’s book.
“I didn’t pursue teaching, teaching pursued me. My dream was actually to do journalism or (become) a writer. Willow is a dream that is 30 years old and took two months to write…A teacher once told my mother that I was ‘painfully immature’ and had ‘no talent whatsoever for writing’ so she couldn’t understand why I had written down that my dream was to write a children’s book one day. I was 13 years old and luckily, my mother ignored her and assured me that I had limitless potential.”
But, she said, life got in the way and her dream was forced to take a back seat. A former student of St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain and the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, Lee Wohing said immediately after graduating with a degree in Literature, she began tutoring children in her neighbourhood in Westmoorings – something she had been doing unofficially since she was a teenager.
“Over the years, I’ve honed skills that facilitate all learners at both primary and secondary level and I’ve incorporated societal and community awareness, leading my students in annual charity events. This helps them to remember that academic prowess holds little value if you lack compassion.”
She offers private English language, literature and creative writing tutoring to primary and secondary school students. “I’ve never seen the need to work in a school setting. Children learn differently and this way I get to know my students and find out exactly what they need.”
But, she said, she gave so much of her time and herself to helping her students fulfil their dreams that she forgot she once had dreams of her own. It took a period of darkness and self-reflection to serve as a reminder.
“I lost my mother three years ago and my father, four years before that. As the younger of two children, 11 years apart, I spent a lot of time looking after my parents. My dad was my best friend so losing him was devastating. The loss of my mom, however, who was the driving force behind me always trying to do better and be better, was final and gut-wrenching in a way that only those who have experienced such loss can understand.”
She said it was during that period of grief that she was able to re-discover herself and breathe new life into the dreams she once had for herself. In 2019, while on a field trip with her students to Yerette – Home of the Hummingbird in Maracas, St Joseph to see the different species she noticed a photo of a white hummingbird hanging on a wall. She asked about it and found out they do exist but are very rare.
“I was told while they have melanin it never gets to their feathers, they are immune-deficient and have a life span of only about eight months. White hummingbirds are cast out of their community because they attract predators. I started to imagine how a mother hummingbird would feel and the idea of the book started to take shape…I never expected that inspiration would rap so heavily on my door and suddenly, I’m here, writing this because a dream that I once recorded when I was 13 years old, has finally come to fruition.”
She said the idea was in her head but she wasn’t writing it down because she has a habit of trying to commit things to memory, “or jotting them down on the backs of envelopes…I went into a store and bought a journal. I got rid of envelopes and started putting things down in a journal.”
Lee Wohing said Willow contains many life experiences and lessons with which the average young person can identify – among them the issue of bullying, relationships with family and friends, faith, family dysfunction, cultural differences, survival skills, mental illness, and self-discovery.
“It is over 13,000 words long and that was intentional. I am hoping it can encourage some sort of family reading time.”
The fact that book is written in standard English was also deliberate.
“There is no dialect because I want people to understand the need for them to use grammar properly. I want to encourage children to use the English language…I don’t see why someone who is well-spoken should be criticised. We do need to bring back the proper use of words. The vocabulary, grammar and everything is followed to a T because I want to instil it in the students.”
The book was self-published, illustrated by David Francisco and designed by Kieron Awon.
Lee Wohing said mental illness is prolific among members of Gen Z, and she made it a point to script Willow as suffering with anxiety so young readers can relate to her. The book also highlights the protective instincts of mothers.
“When Willow’s mother discovers she is white she takes down all mirrors in the house in an attempt to hide the truth from Willow. As a result, Willow doesn’t know she is different and because of that she lives carefree. She has a group of eclectic friends, none of which are hummingbirds.
“I think there are many times when parents try to conceal all sorts of thing and shelter children from the reality if they can. But living your authentic truth is one of your most freeing things that you can do. We ought to encourage children to be their true selves.”
Willow the White Hummingbird is only available through the direct contact with the author.
“I want people to be able to speak to me, the author, directly because I want to be able to connect with my readers.”
To order call 680-9021 or email email@example.com. Follow on IG @willowhummingbird or Willow the White Hummingbird on Facebook.