I spent this past Saturday morning at the Johannesburg Family Gathering, a monthly event organised by Ashley Whitfield at the Museum Africa that centres on children and families. (The details are on the poster and I encourage everyone to get their babies involved in cultural activities outside of school.) This time, we got together for story time with Mpumi’s Magic Beads.
One of the best parts about what I do is engaging with little readers and their parents. I am so grateful each time a child let’s me know that they have hair like Mpumi or when parents share what this story means for their families. I’ve had a mom tell me that the book is her son’s favourite nightly read and that something about the rhyming in the book and reading it aloud together has also helped with his speech issues. I’ve had a kiddies hair salon owner reach out because there’s a little girl who came in with my book and requested the style on the cover. I’ve had mom’s send me videos of their children reading. Each time this happens, my heart absolutely beams to know that this book is doing what I hoped it would do in the world. Little children love this story just as I loved so many stories when I was a child. Beyond that, little children feel at home in this story, and isn’t that just the best thing?
I’m always in awe when I see children who are super confident with asserting themselves with adults and peers, alike. I always make a mental note that I would love to be the kind of parent who nurtures that in a child. I think it’s quite a remarkable thing to see a child who owns their space and articulates themselves boldly. The portrait above was drawn by one such a special little girl. While I was “performing” the story, she was reading along loudly with me and afterwards everyone drew some self portraits and she came over to give me hers. I was so touched by her gift, I’m going to be framing it soon.
The part that will always stay with me is how her mother shared with me that ever since she got the book, she draws herself with this hairstyle. We also spoke about how she will be challenging the school’s hair policy using the book as an illustration of the kind of cultural awareness that the school should be seeking to foster in how they move forward in creating an inclusive environment for all their learners. Considering that this book is partly inspired by my own academic work in the sleight of hand employed by schools: using neutral language in hair codes of conduct yet clearly being discriminatory in implementation – I am really all for parents furthering that conversation, especially at a young age so less children have to suffer the trauma of being vilified by the school system for the way they look.
So, the portrait here, by a very special girl is a reminder of all the people who continue to give this dream wings. I have always wanted to do my part to make it just a little better for children in this world and I’m so grateful that this work, by Masego and I, is adding a little sprinkle of magic, confidence and self-love in your lives. You keep my heart full.
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Thank you to all the parents and guardians who reach out in person and online to share with me how the story continues to move in your lives, beyond the book.