In March 2014, an article in the New York Times stated that in 2013, 93 out of 3200 children’s books were about children of color. That’s a horrible statistic. In essence, 2.9% of children’s books were written for children that look like you. Considering Black people make up about 12% of this country’s population, that is a huge disparity. It creates various gaps but the one that struck me is that a huge sense of “self love comes from recognizing oneself in a text.” It made me think. As a child or even a teenager, can I remember a book that represented me physically?
I cannot think of one.
This is why I am so elated to tell you about “Emi’s Curly, Coily, Cotton Candy Hair” by Ms. Tina Olajide. Emi is a creative and beautiful seven year old. The story tells the journey of Emi getting her hair lovingly styled by her mom. I imagine the type of relationship you and I will have in a few years and it is very close to what is described in this book. Emi is a beautiful character and I can’t wait to see how her story develops in future books. Tina plans for Emi to have adventures in STEM and the arts as more stories are published.
It was a pleasure communicating with Tina about this story and she explained a little about her journey to get this book published. If you ever wonder if you can do something all by yourself, you can! Here are some of her tidbits.
DD: What motivated you to write this book?
TO: I love natural hair and wanted to create a children’s book that highlighted healthy hair, self-confidence and black beauty to little girls. My love of storytelling and animation influenced my desire to create a female character with strong and vibrant illustrations, because images are so powerful.
DD: How did you come up with the character Emi?
TO: It’s the funniest thing, I knew what she looked like in my head and I just needed the right illustrator to bring her to life. As far as Emi’s personality, I drew some inspiration from my childhood, but more importantly she would be a voice that was missing in children’s literature.
DD: How would you like the character Emi to develop in future books?
TO: I want to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the arts through Emi’s eyes. I think Emi’s natural-born curiosity, imagination and creativity will lead her down interesting paths of discovery.
DD: Why did you decide to self-publish and how was the experience for you?
TO: I decided to self-publish my book because it allowed me to have full creative control and direction of my idea. It was important to me to present the character and story as I intended it to be. This process was arduous and required a lot of patience, but my book may not have seen the light of day if I went through the traditional publishing route. Technology has leveled the playing field for go-getters to create their own opportunities.
Two more things I learned from talking with Ms. Olajide and that I want you to know:
Even our Sistas across the pond in London have hair adventures. From natural hair, to relaxers, to braids, to locs, we mostly have similar hair experiences. You are NEVER alone.
Trust your instincts. Emi was in Tina’s head for a while and she struggled to find an illustrator to bring her to life the way she envisioned. Her first attempt at getting the character created was unsuccessful and that can be discouraging. When you are down, you are not out. Just regroup and keep following your spirit. At one point Tina was even told not to be so finicky about finding the right illustrator. We are so lucky that Tina did not listen to that person.
What I want you to know? Seek out images that reflect who you are and who you want to be. Be mindful of the books, movies, and television you are subjecting yourself to. It matters.
PS – And of course I have a copy of “Emi’s Curly, Coily, Cotton Candy Hair” for you! I can’t wait to read it to you. Want to know more about Emi? See below.