Reviewed by Randi Payton, Decisive Media Network
The concept of BLM, whether heralded from today’s Black Lives Matter or yesterday’s Black Liberation Movement, is ever-present in the children’s books of Nkechi Taifa, which embrace both fantasy and reality as they entertain and educate. In a time of world fantasy being used by creators worldwide, Taifa wants people of African descent to control their imaginations.
Examples abound concerning appropriation. The recent announcement that Anansi Boys, the novel by fantasy writing legend Neil Gaiman, received a six-episode order by Amazon Studios—shows the never-ending power of white theft of African myth, fantasy, mythology, and folklore.
Taifa, an author based in Washington, D.C., where she was educated and developed as a human rights attorney, understood the importance and power of stories on the grassroots level. As a young teacher in an Independent Black School during the late ’70s, looking for relevant stories to teach her students, she created the reality she wanted to see. These books, now collectively dubbed “The Taifa Trilogy,” were widely read in small but influential Africentric circles in the 1980s and 1990s. As she decided to bring her books back for a new generation of young readers, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered, and the teaching of race in schools came under attack, revealing even more vividly the importance of Black people writing their own stories. She thought it was time for our children to embrace Black aspirations again.
Nkechi Taifa’s children’s books, the Three Tales of Wisdom, Shining Legacy, andThe Adventures of Kojo and Ama do not seek to change the world, but they do re-shape it, inwardly, for those with small hands and large eyes and equally big dreams. Kojo and Ama travel the world of melanated people, learning from three sources: their mistakes, a kind extended family member named Brother Shaka, and the shrewd family cat Sheba (a thinly disguised Bast). In one of the Wisdom stories, Anansi the Spider from African folklore, not Gaiman’s character, miraculously emerges to assist Ayanna (Taifa’s take on the ever-present Cinderella story) in her time of need—attending the Harvest Festival in an independent New Afrika. And Shining Legacy spotlights real-life Black superheroes and sheroes from history, particularly freedom fighters who helped advance the Black Liberation Movement.
Taifa takes special care to update the books for today’s youth visually. Nson Bonsu and Mudiku, aided by Benjamin, produce beautiful representations designed to be viewed repeatedly, creating the emotional attachment that jump-starts young imaginations.
These decolonized works follow the tradition of Africentric classics such as J.A. Rogers Your History: From Beginning of Time to the Present and John Henrik Clarke’s widely-anthologized short story “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black.” The latter was adapted into a short film by HBO, part of a trio of classic Black short stories collectively and curiously titled America’s Dream, airing five months before Clarke’s death. Here’s hoping that Taifa’s Trilogy (Shining Legacy, Kojo and Ama, and Three Tales) clarifies that both Black fantasies and Black reality matter. For more info on Nkechi Taifa, visit www.NkechiTaifa.org.