Born in the seaport capital of Paramaribo, Surinam (formerly Dutch Guiana, north of Brazil) she moved to London in 1961, in her 30s. She was a poet, novelist and playwright.
(interviews, profiles, book covers - and many colorful photos!)
From her son, Deryck Breinburg:
"I wanted to say a few words about my mother Petronella Breinburg from my point of view. The first thing is that mum’s name is unusual. Petronella is the Dutch female name for Peter. It means rock. Brein means brain, intellect, intelligence, common scene. Burg or Berg means mountain. So mum’s name means the Rock, the mountain of intellect and intelligence. Perhaps this was an appropriate name for mum.
"On Tuesday 5th November mum lost her fight with illness and was taken away from us. The mighty rock had fallen. But I think the legacy she left behind was: it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from or your background, with focus, determination and hard work, you can achieve whatever you want. I also think if you put out a hand of love and friendship you will meet like-minded people. They will help to guide you along the road of life. Mum achieved what she wanted to achieve and that was to help everyone she came into contact with. Petronella Breinburg is the legend.”
She was also known as Bella Ashey and Mary Totham.
"...Her first book, Legends of Suriname, was published by New Beacon in 1971. Subsequently, her series of books about a little boy called Sean, published by Bodley Head, made her more famous. A number of letters in the file refer to the horrendous time she had whilst doing her teaching practice in London schools in the 1970s. Her own experience of racism in schools and her insights into the problems facing black children in the British education system in the 1970s make for interesting reading though the language she uses is often very 'of its time'. I imagine her mostly negative experiences in the school system encouraged her to write children's books which reflected black children's everyday experience in Britain. It's also interesting that she not only wanted to reach a British audience but she was also keen to get her books published in Surinam, because, she says, the only images of British children that Surinamese children encountered in books were of upper-middle class white children, drinking tea on the lawn or squabbling with their governesses!"
(15-minute performance of The Sea Princess, by kids)
(short read-aloud of My Brother Sean)
Children's books, except as indicated:
Legend of Surinam, Panther House, 1971.
My Brother Sean, Bodley Head, 1973.
Shawn Goes to School, Crowell, 1973.
Doctor Shawn, Crowell, 1974 (published in England as Doctor Sean, Bodley Head, 1974).
(Contributor under name Mary Totham) Dulan Barber, editor, One Parent Families (adult), Davis Poynter, 1975.
Us Boys of Westcroft, Macmillan, 1975.
Shawn's Red Bike, Crowell, 1975 (published in England as Sean's Red Bike, Bodley Head, 1975).
Bre-Nancy's Dream, Macmillan, 1976.
Brinsly's Dream, Burke Publishing, 1976.
Sally-Ann's Umbrella, Bodley Head, 1976.
What Happened at Rita's Party, Kestrel Books, 1976.
One Day, Another Day, Macmillan, 1977.
Sally-Ann in the Snow, Bodley Head, 1977.
Tiger, Paleface and Me, Macmillan, 1977.
A Girl, a Frog, and a Petticoat, Macmillan, 1978.
Sally-Ann's Skateboard (National Book League selection), Bodley Head, 1979.
The Rain, Macmillan, 1980.
"A Streak of Gold" (for children; one-act), first produced in London, England, 1972.
"Some Creation" (for older children; one-act), first produced in London, 1972.
"Requiem" (adult play; one-act), first produced in London at Greenwich Youth Theatre, 1973.
"Velvet Curtains" (adult play; three-act), first produced at Greenwich Youth Theatre, 1974.
Work represented in anthologies, including:
Tell Me a Story, edited by Dorothy Edwards, Metheun, 1974.
(Under pseudonym Bella Ashey) Plum in Common, edited by Dulan Barber, David Poynter, 1974.
The Haunted and the Hunted, edited by Kathleen Lines, Bodley Head, 1975.
Read Me Another Story Book, edited by Edwards, Methuen, 1976.
Stories of the City, edited by Veronica Harvey, Evans, 1977.
Caribbean Folktale, Bogle L'Ouverture, 1980.
Love You, Hate You, Evans, 1980.
A Story for Every Day of the Year, Evans, 1980.
"Contributor of poems, short stories, and articles, sometimes under
pseudonym Bella Ashey, to British publications."
WORKS IN PROGRESS
"Writing on language in education, with special emphasis on Cockney