Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Can we just take a moment to admire how beautiful the cover is? It’s easy to see why this book won a 1988 Caldecott Honor Award. This is one of my absolute favorite books from my childhood because it was one of the first books in which I saw a reflection of myself. Look at that beautiful black girl on the front!

Author/illustrator John Steptoe created this African-Cinderella story after being inspired by African folktales published in a collection called Kaffir Folktales by G.M. Theal in 1895. Theal was a South African historian who also felt it was his duty as a Christian White male to civilize the Africans. So from African roots to colonization to a Black artist living in Brooklyn, these stories traveled and inspired. Steptoe created a book that celebrates Africa. He uses water soluble inks applied by brush and pen and with this technique, his illustrations glow. They are so beautifully vibrant!

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Mufaro has two daughters named Manyara and Nyasha. Manyara is a rotten person and treats her humble and kind sister Nyasha horribly. One day it’s announced that the Great King is looking for a new wife and only the most worthy woman will become his Queen. Manyara’s selfishness catches up with her and Nyasha’s gentle nature and kindness give her all the treasures she deserves. This twist on the western Cinderella tale is very sweet and is full of morals for people of all ages to learn from. If you have a child who loves Cinderella stories, add this one to their collection! You’ll enjoy reading it together.

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Fairytales, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Morals, History, Discussion
Book Info: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, 1987 Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, ISBN: 9780688040451

Respect My Canon! (Please)

Image Credit: American Girl

Image Credit: American Girl, http://www.americangirl.com

I didn’t grow up reading classics that may be a part of your personal canon. I wasn’t very interested in books like Little House on the Prairie or Ramona the Brave because I had my trusty Berenstain Bears books AND several books that featured little black girls. I connected to those images unconsciously. Naturally, content was the most important thing to me in a book, but how could I not want to see someone like me? A black girl doing cool things?! Yeah, let’s read about that! [Shout out to the American Girl, Addy]

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters was one of my favorites growing up and still is; click here to read my post about it. My father was very Afrocentric, so I had many books about Africa and Black History on my bookshelf. I went to a mostly African-American Catholic elementary school and was lucky enough to have as my second grade teacher Mrs. Reid, who taught us about Black History. I distinctly remember the day we learned “We Shall Overcome.” This is where I come from. So I often wonder why it’s “expected” that I’ve read certain western children’s classics, especially in my personal reading time, as a child. I respect the western children’s classics but I don’t necessarily relate to them.

I’m just asking you to respect my canon. It is powerful too. More importantly, respect the fact that many children of color have a hard time connecting to what they read. Every child is different. Some kids, you throw any book at them and they’ll devour it. Other kids have to find that one perfect book they can relate to, that lights a spark for them. These kids might see a positive representation of themselves in a book and think quietly, “Oh hey, I can do that too?” and then they’re off. That’s all it takes. So guess what we need? MORE of these books. Let’s encourage these books in order to support these authors to get these stories out there for our children.