By PATRICK A. HOWELL
I met Dr. Tamara Pizzoli at the Harlem Book Fair this summer, just around the corner from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; her pavilion at the outdoor festival was a ray of light, absolutely beaming, where many a passerby more often than not, formed a line to purchase her book and talk to the vibrant author. New soul energy radiated from the stand—the new new. And I have to be honest: she bears a striking resemblance to the characters in her books. In fact, she transforms the immediate radius around her into the very same color-filled goodness splashing her pages.
Indeed, this is the vibe for the former kindergarten schoolteacher’s children’s books, The Ghanaian Goldilocks and its follow up, F is for Fufu: An Alphabet Book Based on The Ghanaian Goldilocks.
“The Ghanaian Goldilocks” has beautiful illustrations bursting with love, energy, primary colors and places in dreams; in my mind, many of the scenes depicted could just as easily have taken place in a neighborhood in the Bronx, Chicago, Miami, Jamaica as they did in their setting in Accra, Ghana. Dr. Pizzoli’s pages flow with a rhythm (iambic pentameter), good heartedness and lyricism (song and dance)—a wonder-filled look at the day in the life of a brown skin boy going through the paces of growing up and learning lessons in love, respect and honor. Punched plenty with beautiful illustrations by Phil Howell (the same genius who illustrates Kanye West’s alias, the college drop out bear, and designs for hip hop artist Pharrell), the children’s book invites imagination and chuckles, all the while providing memorable moments for life lessons.
Says Dr. Pizzoli: “I got the idea to write the book from watching my own son. At the time he was around 3, and we were visiting his uncle. He was in his uncle’s home touching this and tasting that, and I said, ‘Who do you think you are? Goldilocks?’ And in a second he was doubled over laughing.”
“The Ghanaian Goldilocks” is a contemporary take on the classic fairytale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” only with seamless and magical injections of fufu, kente cloth, jollof rice, kebabs, plantain and sweet and spicy African memories. In Dr. Pizzoli’s tale, “Ghanaian Goldilocks” is the alias for Kofi, a precocious little boy with blonde hair baked by the Ghanaian sun, who is filled to the brim with mischief, wonder and unmistakable beauty. “Ghanaian Goldilocks” learns lessons from the community of Ashanti elders and a patient and wise though firm mother.
Dr. Pizzoli continues: “In watching my own three-year-old son, it got me to thinking two things: 1.) When is the last time you saw a Black boy as the main character of a fairy tale? And 2.) That’s a story that needs to be retold, from that perspective in particular, because fairy tales teach our children so much, but, probably the first thing they teach them is how to think critically.”
Those are some large claims and I thought it would be wise to consult with an expert so I sought my sage 8-year-old son Christian Wagari Howell for some insight into one of his favorite bedtime stories. Herein, a transcription of that discussion (reader cautioned for plot spoilers!)
From a kid’s perspective:
Patrick, a.k.a., The Dad: What did you think about the book Chris Cross?
Chris, a.k.a., The Son: It was really good. I like the way it was a fairy tale but it was Ghanaian. I think it is kind of interesting how Goldilocks did not get in trouble for all of his mischief. I also think it was interesting how all the other Goldilocks stories were with bears. This one was different because in the other story, Goldilocks jumped out of the window and never came back. This Ghanaian Goldilocks was different: he had to pay the price. It’s kind of like the father and the mother and the little child (in “Ghanaian Goldilocks”) were about to get mad at Goldilocks and the entire village came to welcome the Osei family instead.
P: Why is that important to you that the story was in Ghana?
C: It’s a change – it is kind of different. It’s a fairy tale except it is Ghanaian. The reason I think that it is important: it’s kind of different and it’s like a new idea.
I learned that sometimes Ghanaian boys are mischievous and they have a lot of guts to go into somebody else’s house and eat somebody else’s food and to also sit in somebody else’s chair and break it. The little boy got into so much trouble and always got caught. But even when he got caught, it wasn’t big trouble.
P: Did you learn anything from the story?
C: Never go into somebody’s house and eat their food and sit on their stools and go in their closets and break somebody else’s chair.
P: Did you learn anything about Ghanaian culture?
C: They are very interested in a lot of things. Some Ghanaians have interesting thoughts. Like if their mother tells them to go ask the neighbor for tomatoes and nobody is there, then the Ghanaians think there is no reason to go home. It’s interesting.
P: What are some ways that you and Kofi are the same?
C: We both have long hair, long hair that is curly and long. We both have brown skin and we love our mommies. And his hair has a lot of curls. And mischief is very, very popular with both of us. For me and Kofi, that is something that is very similar to both of us. It’s kind of like when our mother tells us we can’t do something and then we do it anyways and then we get into trouble.
Also Kofi has a good voice and a bad voice in his head. Sometimes I listen to both too.
P: What are some ways that you and Kofi are different?
C: I think his mother Abena and a lot of mothers in Ghana are different because they let their sons go out and look for food and go ask shop owners for food. And the mothers always know everything before Goldilocks. I learned about different foods like fufu and palm nut stew.
P: Would you recommend that Mommies and Daddies read this story to their children?
C: I would really have to recommend that you buy this book and read it to your children because it is very interesting. It’s like a Goldilocks story but it’s awesome because it has little brown boys and a lot of different characters in it. There is this whole village.
See y’all in Ghana over the holidays! We’ll be over at Abena and Kofi’s choppin’ it up!
About the author: Dr. Tamara Pizzoli has an Ed.D. in supervision, curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M. She was a kindergarten teacher for many years and owned a school in Rome until last summer. “The Ghanaian Goldilocks” was featured this month in ForHarriet.com’s “Black Girls Love Books” and can be purchased on Amazon at The Ghanaian Goldilocks. Readers can preview with the audio recording at http://youtu.be/MWhSlX66fSw.
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Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur and writer who lives with his wife and son in Carlsbad, Calif. He is a frequent contributing writer to MyBrownBaby, TheGoodmenProject, Magnanimity, The Black Book Review, Opportunist Magazine and other topical blogs and e-zines, and has co-authored the concept “Global I AAM” as representative of the Global International African Arts Movement. Both Howell’s book, “Yes, We Be,” and his magazine, Jicho.co, will be published by Howell Media Inc. in 2015. Check him out on Facebook, Pinterest or Tweet him at @PatrickAnthony.