CHILDREN’S BOOK / BODY-POSITIVITY / HAIR POSITIVITY: Pumpkin finds her Queen by Bianca Flanders, illustrations by Zinelda McDonald, published by LAPA Uitgewers (2019)
Pumpkin finds her Queen (published 2019 by LAPA Uitgewers): review
Acclaimed actress Bianca Flanders has written an enchanting and charming book. It’s a delight.
A little girl Pumpkin Pie (she is about five years old) is freaked out by her curly hair. She longs to be like some of her friends who have straight hair which is compliant and remains in place; contained by clips and hair restraints. Pumpkin Pie is sad. She feels like a pariah and does her best to tame her locks – squashing, yanking, pulling- trying to straighten her curls. Luckily her sister is aware of the situation and she shows Pumpkin Pie that the world is made up of difference and that beauty lies in difference.
Pumpkin Pie is able to embrace her hair and celebrate the splendour of her locks. She discovers that her hair is a repository; a treasure trove; a container of clips and wondrous objects (Lego, Zoo Biscuits, a flag).
Pumpkin finds her Queen is a delight for youngsters (from 18 months and up) and is a pleasure to read for adults reading to little ones. I reckon that a verbal child from two would love this book. I loved reading it. That is important. It can be excruciating reading books to little ones. Often books are conceptualised with good intentions but when read out aloud, it can be very tiresome as one stumbles verbally through complex rhymes and sequences.
Flanders has conjured up a transfiguration of the physical through magical realism. Zinelda McDonald’s quirky illustrations are in synch with the rhythm of the dialogue. The text goes “boing” and “ping” across the pages.
The text is pared down. We don’t get a lecture encouraging kids to be proud of who they are and to chant daily affirmations. The book doesn’t come across as a morality story. I think that Flanders’ work in live performance is evident in the way the tale is told. The story – especially when read out aloud – has a sense of a performance – with “sounds” which crackle off the page. Flanders: “I would imagine my world as a performer has definitely informed the book. I don’t think I would be able to get away from that. When I wrote it I also tried to remember that I’m writing for a little person, with thoughts and feelings and ideas. I wrote the book that I would’ve enjoyed as a child. Because the book is for kids I knew that there was room to really have fun with illustrations. Little people have such vivid imaginations and I wanted the book to reflect that. When I spoke to Zinelda about the illustrations, I thought it would be nice to use magical realism. So we see the reality of how Pumpkin looks, and then we see how she sees her hair. The contrast is wonderful.”
The genesis of the story goes back to Flanders’ issues with her hair when she was growing up. “As a little girl, I spent a lot of time stressing about what I looked like. Learning how to like my hair was a long and difficult journey. I think I only stopped straightening my hair when I was about 14. I was introduced to the songs of India Arie and that played a massive role in me deciding to wear my hair curly. I remember the first day I went to school with curly hair, I was so nervous. It felt like such a big deal.” [India Arie is an American R&B and soul singer. In the song, I Am Not My Hair from her 2006 album, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, she reflects that she has “always been black” and that even when she “tried it all”, her hair “had a lumpy curly top and all that crap” and now she is “Just tryin’ to be appreciated.”]
For Flanders, writing Pumpkin finds her Queen is about actively presenting body positive role models -across demographic, colour, gender- for young readers. Hair has been a major issue at some South African schools with blatant racial profiling – presented as grooming and deportment. So l-called unruly hair (anything but straight) is often deemed as untidy but has nothing to do with order and everything to do with colour: Flanders: “It is important to create the heroes/heroines we never had. As a brown female in South Africa, I never got to read about someone who looked like me. There are many authors doing wonderful work on expanding the range of literature and that excites me. I think that everyone should be able to see themselves represented in art, whether it be a film, a painting, music or a children’s book.”
Pumpkin finds her Queen is a fun book with an important message, which is conveyed vibrantly through a celebration of Pumpkin and her magical locks. I loved this book. It is a treat for youngsters and a pleasure for those who are reading out loud to tots.
Pumpkin finds her Queen – also published in Afrikaans as Prinses Pampoenit (translation by Jaco Jacobs)
✔ Publisher: LAPA Uitgewers
✔ Concept and text: Bianca Flanders
✔ Illustrations: Zinelda McDonald
✔ Recommended retail price: R140
✔ Buy online: https://www.graffitiboeke.co.za/en/365578/Bo6oks
✔ Bookshops: should be available in South Africa, at major book stores like Exclusives, Wordsworths and The Book Lounge.
✔ Unable to find in-store: e-mail: email@example.com
✔ Still unable to order a copy and not getting anywhere on internet: call 012 401 0700 or 086 720 1583 (the 012 is the code for Pretoria, South Africa)
✔ If you live out of South Africa – or in South Africa and cannot locate the book, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or see https://lapa.co.za