Welcome to the Kingdoms of Celebration. This is the title of the first in the journey of kids’ books I am embarking on, featuring Princess Nia as the main character. Nia is a princess from the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers, one of the major kingdoms in the Kingdoms of Celebration.
She is the daughter of Queen Malia and King Kani, who are loved and respected across the Kingdoms of Celebration as leaders who uphold the motto of Family, Friendship and Fun.
My journey started admittedly with a simpler aim: to write a kids book featuring a black, beautiful princess. A book I could read to my daughter without having to remind her that she too was – or could be – beautiful, in spite of the trending fairytale characterisation of beauty.
Hair was an important topic for all the women and girls in the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers. For many of the men and boys as well, but that’s another story.
There were many, many different styles just like there were many, many different flowers.
And just like the many, many flowers, the many, many hairstyles were all beautiful.
However, as I discussed the ideas with family, friends, colleagues and random strangers, I soon realised that I didn’t want to write a book about a black princess and a black kingdom. I wanted to write a book about a princess who happened to be black and a whole cross culture of kingdoms of different races, skills, resources, goals and world-views, yet coexisting in celebration of each other’s differences. In fact, difference and diversity would be so normal that the books don’t dwell on diversity as something special. This is life. This is celebration.
This does seem a bit meaty for children, but this is the challenge we as kids book writers face: making the big topics in life accessible, palatable and digestible for children, without being patronising, boring or irrelevant. This is my attempt to capture what celebration could look like.
Princess Nia lived in a time many, many years ago when all of the earth’s lands were still one.
There were no borders, no moats or separation by water, no gates and no fences. The earth was just one place where people lived.
Everyone could freely walk everywhere although it would take a very long time. In fact, walking is just what many people did. From a very young age Nia would walk for many moons with her parents and people of the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers to visit friends from different kingdoms.
Even though the lands of the earth were one, there were still many different kingdoms.
This was possibly the happiest time on earth. There was no fear of each other, no fear of the dark and no fear of spiders.
In the north was the Kingdom of Precious Metals and Stones. They found silver, gold and diamonds under the earth. They also dug and found other metals that would be used for many things. Nia knew them well as they would bring metals and stones to her father, King Kani, for making tools. These tools were used to keep the gardens of Fragrant Flowers as magnificent as possible.
In the south was the Kingdom of Birds. They were bird watchers and carers.
Birds of all kinds flocked and nested in their kingdom.
The people of the southern kingdom studied the birds. They dreamed of being able to fly and had often made attempts that did not all end up so well.
The eastern Kingdom of Light planned everything around the morning sun, the night-time moon and the stars.
They boasted that they were the sun’s favourites. It came to see them first before visiting the other kingdoms.
They loved everything to do with light and were known for their very long, fire-side parties. They would party to welcome the sun in the morning and then to say goodbye at night.
They loved light so much that some of the people were known to eat fire.
The western Kingdom of Sea Shells was known for life close to the sea.
Homes were decorated with shells of every sort. People also wore colourful seashells as ornaments and hairpieces
They were many cliffs and the people were very good divers, swimmers and boat builders.
As you can imagine, a party in the Kingdom of Sea Shells was a beach party with water-sports.
Now, at the centre of the earth at that time was The Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers, Nia’s kingdom.
It was a fertile land of fruit trees and flowers of every sort.
As far as the eye could see were fields of many colours. Red, white, blue, purple, yellow, pink and more.
Flowers were used to decorate the halls, the houses and of course the people.
Princess Nia continued to blossom in beauty. Some said she looked like her mother the Queen, others said she had the King’s nose.
King Kani called her his “precious petal” because she floated as she walked, just like when rose petals floated in the air.
Nia’s skin was dark like the bark of the Cassia tree. It always had a glow as though the sun’s rays stayed in her cheeks.
Her black, curly, wooly hair was always decorated with colourful petals from Geraniums.
Many moons passed, the rainbow roses continued to bloom and plans for the party were in full swing. Everyone in the kingdom was involved in putting together decorations, floral arrangements, food, drink and entertainment for their guests.
Princess Nia could be found helping in the Ipakati garden, talking and singing to the flowers as she went about her work.
Plans seemed to be flowing very well, with smiles and laughter making the work enjoyable. This was so until something that would change their world forever happened…
I can’t give away anymore of the story and spoil your experience of diving into this world, once the book is complete. Like any story something happens that literally breaks their world apart. Princess Nia makes a move of almost self-sacrifice that stops this rupture and establishes a new season for the kingdoms.
Family, friendship and fun can be overshadowed by fear and we turn to survival as the epitome of living – a deception that keeps us apart and enables oppression to fester. This is the reality that we face today. Each generation faces a new manifestation of the same old fear that severs the potential for intercultural collaboration and existence – the essence of beauty. Maybe someday we will “return” to be the Kingdoms of Celebration.