Princess with Afro is story for all children, says Arabella author

03 September 2017 - 00:00 By TANYA STEENKAMP

There are few books in which black children can identify with the heroes or heroines, so Dutch author Mylo Freeman decided to write - and illustrate - such a book.
Inspiration for the first of her Princess Arabella books came 10 years ago when she heard of Jahkini, a nine-year-old black girl from Suriname. Jahkini had turned down the part of a princess in a play because she believed black princesses did not exist.
"My hair is nappy and my skin is brown; princesses are white, have long blonde hair and blue eyes," Jahkini said.
"When I heard this story my heart broke. I also had never thought of the image of a black princess," said Freeman, who is black.Freeman will be in Cape Town this week for the Open Book Festival, which starts on Wednesday.
When Freeman's books reached the US eight years ago, there were many negative responses concerning the images of Arabella's hair, she said.
"I specifically modelled Arabella and her mom's hair on original African hairdos."
She compared this to last year's hairstyle controversy concerning a group of Pretoria schoolgirls.
"It comes from the same political situation as the US where black people have been oppressed," said Freeman.
"White people have imposed their rules, beauty standards being one of them, on black people.
"For black women this resulted in straightening their hair and growing to dislike their own natural hair. But reclaiming your freedom comes with recognising your own beauty and capacity.
"For me the true crown on Princess Arabella's head is not so much the golden jewel but her natural hair.
"In Holland a lot of books are sold at hair events for black women and they are very happy to buy books for their children [when the characters] look like them," she said.
Freeman has a Dutch mother and an African-American father.
"Being mixed race also makes you stand slightly outside the group and gives you a more broad view of the world, I think. It made me empathetic to all kinds of people, no matter what skin colour or background. And this is what I know Princess Arabella can achieve."
She said her books were not about colour, but about themes that would appeal to any child...

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