Mattel has been working hard on diversity – as ever. The curvy dolls are a step in the right direction and the Made To Move dolls are impressively posable. Yoga poses of all types are possible. But kids are kids and dolls must be dolls. I haven’t seen freckles on a Barbie doll since the sixties – and even then it was the cute youngsters not BMR herself.
This interview is a work of FICTION with the authors bringing their characters to life.
Bekki: Hello Jaden. I am Bekki the Fairy. I am great because I do helpful spells. What is your most greatest, bestest thing about you?
Jaden: I think a lot of people would say my hair. When we went to New York City people stopped me on almost every block to say they liked my hair. Seriously. At first, I was giving people helpful hints on growing their afros, but then Mama kept telling me to just say, “Thank you,” even though that doesn’t seem very helpful at all.
But I wouldn’t say my hair is the best thing about me. I think my ninja dancing is way better than my hair.
Bekki: I can do some of the moves from Single Ladies. What are your favourite dance moves?
Jaden: It’s probably a tie between the Robot and the Moonwalk. Or a mega-tie between the Robot, the Moonwalk, the Warrior, Ninja on Tiptoe, the Rainbow, and the Dab. On second thought, I’ll just say the Dab. My sister taught me that one.
Bekki: My brother Sam used to be my baby-sitter but he won’t do it anymore because I turned him into a hotdog. Is your sister Sissy your baby-sitter?
Jaden:No, but she really, really wants to be. I told her if she really wants to convince Mama and Baba that she should make a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint presentations are scientifically proven to convince parents of anything. That and petitions.
I even said I’d help her make it because I’m kind of an expert in PowerPoints and all we’d have to do is become experts in the law so we could make a perfect case to convince our parents, but she said, “No, thank you,” for some strange reason. Weird, right?
Bekki: You’re from New Orleans? That’s in the United States, isn’t it? I come from London but I am a mixture of Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Portugal and Scotland. Are you a mixture?
Jaden: Um…I’m not sure. But [pulls out notebook] that gives me a great idea for a research project.
Bekki: Can you speak any Swahili?
Jaden: I know the Nguzo Saba (that means seven principles) from Kwanza, and I know how to say hello now that my cousin Muffin taught me. My mom can speak a lot of French, but Chinese is more my thing.
Bekki: Does your big hair take a lot of looking after?
Jaden: Sometimes. My mom washes it and combs it into my alien hair (my mom calls it twists, but alien hair is just better) and then leaves it to dry like that. Then I either wear my alien hair to school or I pull the aliens apart in an epic battle and free my ‘fro. That’s the best part. After a while my mom makes me get it washed again, though.
Bekki: What is the best thing about your mum?
Jaden: She gives really good hugs and she makes the best muffins.
Bekki: Do you want me to do a magic spell to turn you into a Ladek?
Jaden: So that I can become the most hated creature on the planet and nearby galaxies?!? No thanks.
Bekki: Hmmmf, suit yourself! I do skipping and I like rhyming songs. Have you got any good ones to share with me, please?
Jaden: If you like songs that rhyme you should listen to “My Shot” from Hamilton. It’s epic and it has lots of rhymes in it. Like, a ton.
Bekki: I love that song! Thanks for telling me about it! [Bekki dances and makes assertive hand gestures].
That show is coming to London– maybe mum will bring me. Now, next question, who is your favourite teacher and why?
Jaden: Miss Bates is the best teacher in the whole wide world! She knows how to do all the best stuff. Like, seriously. She does. One time she even showed us how to slice a banana without peeling it.
Bekki: If you were a toy would you be an action hero, a cuddly plush toy or a paper doll with loads of outfits?
Jaden: All of them. Definitely all of them. Action heroes are good for the tub and science experiments because they can get wet. Paper dolls are cool because I could make tons of ties for my tie collection. And, I mean, everybody likes plushies, right? What else are you supposed to sleep with at night?
Bekki: Jaden , will you go and play for a minute, please. I am going to talk to someone. Bekki is asking Jaden’s author, Marti Dumas, why she wrote a book.
Marti: I write stories about Jaden Toussaint, a character modelled on my own son when he was 5, because I couldn’t find books about kids who loved school and loved learning–let alone brown kids who loved school and learning–that were also fun.
I try to make the stories something that my own children and their friends enjoy and can relate to. Something where they can see their best selves reflected, including that your best self isn’t always perfect.
Bekki: Will you be writing more books?
Marti: Jaden Toussaint is the star of five chapter books so far, with a bonus book about the scientific method in the works for this summer. We’re kicking around ideas for a 6th book and, funnily enough, the main idea right now involves a babysitter! 🙂
Bekki: That’s super. My babysitters love me! [This is not completely true!]It has been splendid talking to you, Jaden. Can we be friends?
It is a long story but I have been making stickers as well as merch. The first two are up on Redbubble. I am trying to help raise awareness of a #GoFundMe campaign called Welcome Wave to take asylum seeking Irish kids surfing.
The stickers are based on a few people. One is Ruby from my book “A Fairy in the Family Again” and the other is an Afro-Irish activist called Kany Kazadi who I have blogged about before.
There are so many ways that science transforms our everyday lives. I am always on the lookout for STEM careers for the girls in my books – especially the STEM Lovin’ Baby-Sitters.
Today I was fascinated to hear about nanotechnology in fabrics. My books talk about jobs in science that have an appeal beyond science, particularly jobs in the hair and beauty industries. My character Keysha paints her nails while considering how to make eco-friendly pigmented polymers. She would be intrigued by the nanotechnolgy where elements are added to fabrics to give them new qualities – fire-proofing, stretchiness, UV protection, drug delivery (!) and many other superpowers.
I am investigating whether the leggings on the Zazzle website are made with nanotechnology. People are raving about them so I am checking out whether the fabric mills in Canada, where they come from, use nanotech.
Meanwhile, check out how you can combine art and science to customise your leggings. Here is Geeky Mikita added to leggings. This is the kind of topic that Miss Treacle might talk about in a future book.
My colouring book has appeared on Amazon. It is a colouring book for little girls who might enjoy being looked after by Jada-Kai, Keysha and Ruby the STEM Lovin’ Baby-Sitters. Little girls will like seeing what the big girls get up to.
The baby-sitters appeared first in my book A Fairy in the Family Again. The book tried to make a point about careers in STEM in the beauty industry. There is along history of black women developing hair products.
Imagine working in science to make products you love. Our pal Mumbi has done just that. Girls are going to have STEM careers that we have not even imagined.
This post is inspired by the Afro-Irish woman who wore green and red braids to support the Mayo team. Add your team colours to Ruby’s braids. Kany Kazadi was an asylum seeker who discovered the power and passion of the GAA, community sport that happens all over Ireland.
Her Twitter post went viral and got her a lot of media attention which she uses to campaign for better conditions for other asylum seekers. It took 12 hours to weave the coloured braids into her hair. It earned her a pair of tickets to the game as well as an appearance on TV on the Late Late Show.
My first two African princess colouring pages are now Printables.
I have started work on my STEM Lovin’ Baby-Sitters colouring book. There will be pages about STEM, baby-sitting and natural hair. I will be making free printables as I go along starting with natural hair and fancy dress.
Fun and empowering colouring books with natural hair for black girls and boys
Here are a few of the colouring books that I have come across recently that celebrate diversity and feature black characters.
Colouring books can be cheap and cheerful. However if you want colouring pages with black kids or natural hair then you may have to pay a bit more. The books I have chosen here are high quality products created by named authors and illustrators. Some have special features like activity and journalling pages. All are designed to be empowering.
This 64 page book is full of boys getting into things like footballs, fireflies and fishing.Cute and cheerful drawings of little dudes will encourage small guys to get the crayons out.Chiquanda also has a sweet book for girls.
It was hard to pick a favourite from this author’s appealing selection of books but I went for the STEM book as it features a multicultural cast of cute girls who cry out to be coloured in.There are also questions for the child to answer so a very endearing souvenir can be created. JD Wright has free pages to download on her site showing black kids with cool hairstyles.
My absolute favourite page in the set of images of girls with big dreams shows a woman strolling barefoot along a beach She asserts that she wants to bea mom and will foster, adopt or have her own kids.
The drawings of multicultural young women doing valuable work make this a fabulous career guidance book.Is she can do it so can I!
I’ve blogged about this book before because I just love colouring it in.Cheerful , gorgeous women with natural hair are shown in a range of activities. The drawings by Janine Harrington are printed on one side of the paper only and cry out to be framed. Crystal Swain Bates has many great books.
As I mentioned earlier I was complaining about books for boys in Instagram and Plum Street Press drew my attention to Swift Walker – a chirpy little characters who stars in many books for the 4-8 age group. Swifts loves travel and adventure. The drawings of Swift with his natural fro and just doing a little bit of work for representation.
I have been watching this one on instagram for a while as the author jilleybeanbooksshowed off pages and details of the project. I don’t have a copy yet but I can see from the reviews that as well as havingdrawings that girls will adore, the book deals with all the topics facing girls.
What really caught my eye was the pretty pre-teen saying a prayer and having a chat with God.I was impressed as a lot of books talk about empowerment without acknowledging spirituality.
The characters from my book A Fairy in the Family Again have their own colouring book. The book was developed in London. It shows Jada-Kai, Keysha and Ruby as totally cool baby-sitters. The idea is that the child colouring the book is learning from these kind-hearted big girls about what big kids love to do. Those things include science, baby-sitting and black hair.
Girls will get to colour in pages with science, geckos, hairstyles, braids, unicorns, natural hair and even an African Princess Fancy Dress Party.
15 Big Dreamers from a wonderful Multi-cultural series by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara – Vegara has turned her book production into an efficient factory of inspirational stories and loveable art. On ya go, Maria. You can ask a kid to imagine/draw themselves in this style- and ask them about their BIG dreams.
Bekki: Hello Obi and Titi. I am Bekki the Fairy. I am delighted to meet you both.
Titi: Wow, so fairies really do exist?! That is so cool!
Obi: Can you fly? I want to see, I want to see! I have a monkey called Mumu and he can talk but he can’t fly, oh!
Titi: Obi, Mumu is no longer your monkey. Remember, he ran off and the talking thing is meant to be a secret.
*Titi rolls her eyes*
Titi: It’s really nice to meet you too Bekki. Please carry on, don’t mind him.
Bekki: Is it true your story happens in Africa in the olden historical days?
Titi: Yes, it’s based in the 15th century in a place called the Benin Kingdom.
Obi: Yes, it was a great empire which is located where present-day Nigeria is.
Bekki: This is a question for Titi. Are you really a princess?
Obi: Oh, oh! Now you’re in trouble, fairy girl. She doesn’t like being called a princess, do you Royal Princess Titilayo? Hahaha.
Titi: It’s okay. Yes, I am but I’m no different from anybody else. Obi reminds me of that every day.
Obi: Yes, I do, oh. In fact, it is my royal duty hehehe…..
Bekki: I come from London but I am a mixture of Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Portugal and Scotland. Are you a mixture?
Obi: Nope. I’m pure Obi and she is pure Titi!
Titi: Don’t mind him, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Our creator wanted to mix things up a little so he gave me a Yoruba name and Obi is Igbo. Research shows that the Benin Kingdom, at the time, was very mixed as there were so many different groups of people living there from all over.
Bekki: If I did a magic spell to go to Nigeria would I be able to see the hidden Temple of Ogisu?
*Obi laughs *
Obi: Of course not, its hidden and it’s really, really hard to find, but if you grant me a couple of wishes I might show it to you.
Titi: Obi you are so rude! Don’t give him anything. You probably shouldn’t have granted him this interview. He is going to spoil it!
Bekki: Who wrote a book about you and why?
Obi: Oh, I know this one. Can I answer? Can I?
Titi: It was Mr O T Begho and he wrote about us and our adventure for two main reasons. One was the lack of black characters in books, educational material, cartoons and games. The second was to give a more factual and positive representation of African history and culture.
Obi: I was gonna say that!
Bekki: Did you like having a pet monkey, Obi?
Obi: No! He is an olè!
Titi: Sorry, that means thief and he isn’t. He is just misunderstood.
Obi: Really? What about when he stole my birthday presents or the time we caught him with a bag full of gold in the temple.
Titi: Err…. maybe we should move to the next question.
Bekki: I do skipping and I like rhyming songs. Have you got any good ones to share with me, please?
Obi: I do.
I once met a fairy, that said that she could fly, But when I pushed her off a cliff, She fell straight down and
Titi: Obi stop it! *Titi covers his mouth*
Bekki: If you were a toys would you be an action hero, a cuddly plush toy or a paper doll with loads of outfits?
Titi: We would be action heroes. We really love a good adventure and somehow we’ve become quite good at getting ourselves out of trouble.
*Titi is still covering Obi’s mouth but he nods in agreement. *
Bekki: Will you be in more books?
Obi: Mr Begho has nearly finished book 6 and I think that’s the end of the series. I have big prospects though. I’m going to be in a computer game or even a movie.
Titi: I want him to continue writing. I have an idea I want to pitch to him but Obi thinks it’s silly. Why just write about the Benin Kingdom? You see, we have this travellers pendant and it’s magical and can take us anywhere, as long as we can find Okuta dust to power it. So, we could travel to other African Kingdoms and continue our adventure there.
Bekki: No, it’s not. Imagine all the princess dresses you would see! It has been cool talking to you, Obi and Titi. Can we be friends?
Titi: Yes, of course. I love fairies. Obi: Nope
Bekki: Shhhh, Obi! I want to tell people about your cool website.
Ahem, even though Obi and Titi are in historical books they use the most modern technology. They have games, videos, Mr Begho doing a rap and all sorts of books and things on their website, I like the photobombs! Come on Titi, let’s have a dance and sing Let it Go.
Bekki the Fairy meets Malcolm and Nia from The Magic Pencil
Bekki: Hello Malcolm, I am Bekki the Fairy from London and it is simply, frightfully splendid to meet you. As you can see I speak like the Queen. Or should I say “Yo, Malcolm, what’s the haps?’
Malcolm:Hello there Bekki! Veddy nice to make your acquaintance.
Bekki: I love the way you talk. The words just slide out! Are you allowed to talk like that in school?
Malcolm:Thanks! Glad you appreciate and unnerstan my usin it. Naw, in school the teachers want us to speak standard English. Sometimes I get away with it if I’m havin a quiet convo with one because they know I know when not to use it! They usually know what I’m sayin too.
Bekki: My brother Sam is very good at school but he is not cool. He says things like lickety split and jeepers creepers. Can you please help him to sound more cool?
Malcolm: Probly, but it might take a minute. That means a long time. But it can mean a short time too! A lot of the meanin of a word depends on how it’s said an in what context! An, if you can see the person, you gotta watch the way they move too. You know, understand they body language! Hey, do you see how I mix up the ways I talk together?
Bekki: I come from London but I am a mixture of Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Portugal and Scotland. Are you a mixture?
Malcolm: I ain had my DNA done yet, haha. But I think everybody is all a – uh – “mixture”. That sounds better than sayin you “mixed”. Makes it soun like talkin about dogs. Science says we all from Africa, anyway.
Bekki:What kinds of music do you like?
Malcolm: A lot. I got an open mine. You could dig for gold an fine it in there, haha. But I do like a lot of different kinds. That’s anotha thing that’s mixed!
Bekki: Do your relatives from Jamaica like reggae music? Do you?
Malcolm: Mostly. I like it now. I had to get used to it, though. My dad plays it a lot when we ridin together. He plays a lot of the classics and even new stuff.
Bekki: What is the best thing about your mum?
Malcolm: Awwww… Moms is great! We have our discrepancies but mostly we cool. She lets me be me as much as possible. And I respect her madly.
Bekki: I have one dad. Is it good having two?
Malcolm: Well, Mom an Jam ain married, yet. But he’s like another dad, and real fun! He got jokes! Dad is basically a standard dad. We cool an all but he don’t play unless it’s wit a soccer ball! Both a them treat me good and I always learn somethin new from em.
Bekki: I go to school in Dagenham where they used to make cars. What’s your favourite car and who is your favourite racing driver?
Malcolm: Right now, I like the Ferrari 488GTB. It got a twin-turbo 3.9-liter V-8 engine and can do 8000 rpm! It’s sweeeeeeeeet! I still like Lewis Hamilton. I like Nicole Lyons too! Bout time I found out about Black female drivers!
Bekki: What do you think of Lewis Hamilton?
Malcolm: He’s a baaaaad Brit brotha! Plus, he’s got a foundation so it makes me know he ain all bout the Benjamins – or whatever they call em where he lives. You know, the money, right?
Bekki: Will your mum and dad let you fuse your hair?
Malcolm: Oh, you mean grow locs? Well, I’m not a Rasta – oh, Rastafarian. That’s like a religion thang. They call theirs dreadlocks. I guess they will. Dad wants me to wait til I’m older cuz he thinks Mom won’t like em. But I think she won’t mind.
Bekki: Do you want me to do a magic spell to make your hair as long as your friend Nia’s?
Malcolm: Hahaha! Not really. I think it’ll be fun to let it do its own fusion in its own time!
Bekki: My baby-sitter Ruby saw Beyoncé when she came to London and showed me the video on her phone. Did you see Beyoncé when she sang a reggae song when she was on tour in America?
Malcolm: Nope. I only seen the videos. She’s done A LOT of reggae stuff! She’s global.
Bekki: I have a question for Nia. Nia, mum won’t let me use my magic wand to do my homework. Do you think that magic is good for homework?
Nia: Not really. It’s kind of cheating, don’t you think? You really won’t learn much more than how to use it better!
Bekki:(changing the subject quickly) I do skipping too. I like the rhyming songs. Have you got any good ones to share with me, please?
Nia: Yep! It’s the kind where you sort of run while you’re jumping. Ms. Quayle, one of my teachers, wrote the rhyme. It’s about a very smart boy named Wyatt. You say the first two parts and jump kind of fast. Then, when you say the third part you go really fast and stomp as you jump. Then you do the same steps for the next three parts. Everyone sings: “Quiet Wyatt! The grow folk say When-I-get-into-their-talking. You’re being smart, Now run and play. I-shake-my-head-as-I-start-walking.”
Bekki: I like rhyming. In London some people use Cockney rhyming slang. It is like a puzzle that you have to work out. So if I say ‘A cup of Rosie’ it means ‘a cup of tea’. Because Rosie Lee rhymes with tea! Can you guess what a syrup is? I’ll give you a clue – it goes on a bald man’s head!*
Malcolm: Uhhhhhhhhh, a stirrup?
Nia: Hmmm. A maple leaf!
Malcolm & Nia (in unison): Who’s right?
Bekki: Hee hee, nobody is right- a syrup is a wig – it rhymes with syrup of figs. But most wig shops don’t use that word so don’t make a fool of yourself!
Bekki: If the Pencil Fairy said she would give you whatever pencils you wanted what kind would you ask for? And what would you use them for?
Malcolm: A mechanical one with a never-ending lead and self- regenerating, not-smeary eraser. Plus, I can tell it to make its lead thicker or thinner, darker or lighter and harder or softer! That way I could use it for everything!
Nia: I guess the same thing would work for me. But I’d want mine to also change the lead’s color!
Bekki: My favourite teacher is Miss Treacle because she is kind and funny. She teaches science to my baby-sitters and to my brother, Sam. Who is your favourite teacher and why?
Nia: Oh, I love Ms. Winston. She is the perfect educator! But I also love Mr. Skye. I help him with the kindergarten kids. He is soooo wise and kind.
Malcolm: Hey Ms. Smarty, you sposed to name only one. I think mine’s Ms. Winston too because she keeps us learning and understands I get bored a lot. But Ms. Kady, the sub, is cool too. She makes things real excitin! I think she’s a chameleon cuz she changes up when she gotstuh!
Nia: You “sposed to name ON-LY one”, boy!
Malcolm: OK. Then I name ME. I teach my self to learn, gurl!
Bekki: Nia, what do you like about Malcolm?
Nia: Malcolm is a great friend; understanding and … loyal.
Bekki: And Malcolm what do you like about Nia?
Malcolm: Uh, she’s OK. Hahaha! Fa real, Nia is intriguing; never boring.
Bekki: Who wrote a book about you guys and why?
Malcolm & Nia: (in unison) Ms. Karen E. Dab-ney!
Malcolm: Well, she wants to get kids to read who may not know the fun part of it and she doesn’t think they have to stop talking one way to talk another way.
Nia: She likes to say “Teach and Lead. Reach and Read!” That means a teacher needs to figure out how to encourage children to want to read by figuring out what they need!
Bekki: Will you be in more books?
Malcolm: Oh, yeah. “Play Mom”, that’s what we call Ms. Dabney, is trying to decide what we will be doing next.
Nia: I think she wants to have us save the world! Maybe one book at a time.
Bekki: It has been marvellously, splendid and a’ight talking to you, Malcolm and Nia. Can we be friends?
Malcolm: Call me Malc. An, yeah. You gotta teach us some magical stuff, though.
Nia: Of course, we can, Bekki! Don’t pay any attention to Malcolm. I can tell he likes you! And I do too.
Bekki: C’mon, I’ll show you my wand.
Time to See The Books:
Do you want to read about Malcolm and Nia and learn code-switchin to talk like Malc?
Malcolm and Nia appear in the book The Magic Pencil. Click on the title or pic to see the book on Amazon. You can look inside the book too!
And Malcolm is on the cover of a book called The Magic Pencil Black Language Glossary. This cool book will teach you to speak Black English – take all the un-nessry letters out of your words and just flow. Try it…it might change how you feel about words. Malcolm will guide you. Get learnin