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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Red Ridin ‘ in the Hood

Susan Norwood guest blogs with her post on Afro-Centric fairy tales today. Her clever husband Kevin suggested the blog title.

A recent newspaper headline stated that 22% of students in our school district speak English as a Second Language. We have some 76,000 students that are from over 80 countries and speak over 100 languages—46% are African American. Shouldn’t our libraries have books that reflect our students’ backgrounds?

A few years ago, I purchased some books from Nashville’s only African-American bookstore, Alkebu-Lan Images. This store describes itself as a repository for products that “boast proud African images.” I bought two fairy tale books that are distinctly Afrocentric. I didn’t buy these books to make a political statement. I just wanted my beautiful biracial granddaughters to know that princesses come in every color.

After reading the books, I decided to take them to my classroom. Boy were they a hit! These stories never go out of fashion. There are large colorful pictures on every page.

The cover of Rapunzel, retold and illustrated by Fred Crump. Jr. features a blue and yellow striped sky. Rapunzel is leaning out of a tower that looks to be made of bamboo. Her long ebony hair flows down in braids. A few pages into the story, our hero, Prince Commando, are shown walking into the jungle with a tiger and zebra.

The other title I purchased—also by Fred Crump, Jr. – was Sleeping Beauty. It begins with “Long ago in the seven kingdoms of Kenyala, a princess was born. She was named “Alora” for the dawn.” The evil sorceress, Kashina, who was not invited to the baby’s christening, places a curse upon Alora: “On her sixteenth birthday, Alora will cut her finger on the tip of a spear and die.”

This should give you the flavor of these stories. They stay true to the plotlines of the originals, but recast them in a way that appeals to my students of color. Not only do my African, African-American, and Hispanic students appreciate these stories, but my “white kids” like them too. I repeat, the illustrations burst with color! The jungle settings and ethnicity of the characters are so different from the Disney versions, that the kids are intrigued.

Our students come to us with such varying backgrounds, that we can’t assume fairy tales we take for granted are known by everyone. Last year, I was trying to teach story elements using Cinderella. I figured everyone knew that story, but I figured wrong. My boy from Sudan who spoke Kuku at home had never heard of it. I handed him the Fred Crump, Jr. version. Kids like to take these books home to read to younger siblings. As with other popular books in my classroom, I used to have Cinderella, but it disappeared.

Other titles by Crump are: Mgambo and the Tigers, Beauty and the Beast, Hakim and Grenita, Thumbelina, Mother Goose, A Rose for Zemira, Little Red Riding Hood, Jamako and the Beanstalk, Afrotina and the Three Bears, Rumpelstiltskin, The Ebony Duckling, The Little Mermaid, Ebonita and the Seven Boyz, and The Three Little Brown Piggies.  Don’t you just love these titles?

Diane, can we get these for our library?

Sure, Susan, I always love requests from teachers and these sound like they’ll be a hit. While researching the author, I found this blog post from one of his former students. What a tribute!  He sounds like such an amazing man and a teacher that I wished I’d known.