Children of African descent face a unique set of challenges.
As parents, we are diligent in educating our children about slavery, civil rights, the uniqueness and beauty of our skin and hair, but we overlook that very special part of childhood called the imagination. That’s where African-American children really begin to pick up subliminal messages that can lead to a negative self-image. “The Prince and Timberance” was originally written for my beautiful chocolate-brown daughter who loved, and was a connoisseur of, fairy tales.
Children of African descent face a unique set of challenges. They are identified as African-American or black. What they are taught about Africa most often centers around slavery, starvation, poverty, or disease, and black is often used to symbolize that which is bad, evil, and/or scary. So whether our children consider themselves black or African-American, neither one feels very good in the most sensitive and secret parts of their hearts. It’s time for them to learn that Africa’s long history does not begin with the degrading acts of slavery, as it might seem.
Fighting harmful and negative messages is complicated, especially when we consider that the messages aren’t even intended to be harmful. If we look at the world from our children’s perspective, we would also see that all of the most wonderful stories, movies, super heroes, etc. feature people that are rarely darker than olive. Don’t forget to include Santa Claus and fairy godmothers in that list of wonderful things. As adults, we brush these things off as nothing more than fun entertainment, but to children they are serious business. Several years ago, Disney made a “black” fairy tale, “The Princess and the Frog.” It was a kingdom-less fairy tale. The only kingdom-less fairy tale in mainstream children’s movies. So again black did not feel as good as everything else. The prince was Hispanic in this, our only mainstream, “black” fairy tale. The inter-racial aspect of the movie was refreshing, but it would have been soooo nice for our little boys to have seen a princely image of themselves on the silver screen.
When I wrote The Prince and Timberance I realized I had a wonderful opportunity to really reach the core of my chocolate-brown daughter’s heart and mind.
When I wrote The Prince and Timberance I realized I had a wonderful opportunity to really reach the core of my chocolate-brown daughter’s heart and mind. The part of her that was developing ideas of how she fits in in the scheme of things. I was determined that in my work black would not feel “less than” in any way. In children’s books, when Africa is not seen through the lens of slavery, it is usually seen as a conglomerate of little villages with very simple problems that need to be solved. “The Prince and Timberance” would take her beyond all of those little villages to a lush and magnificent east African kingdom near ancient Nubia. There is a strong and dignified king in this story, a gracious and gentle queen, a noble and handsome prince, and a beautiful and spoiled princess—a royal black family. How my heart soared to even imagine it, and how our children’s hearts will soar.
“The Prince and Timberance” will touch that very special part of our children’s hearts and minds, and the hearts and minds of their peers, as well, which is also crucial and a topic in and of itself. All children love a well-written, imaginative story. While we consider our children’s feelings about blackness, we can’t forget that their peers and playmates are also processing the same negative information about the black culture as they grow into adulthood, some to become officers of the law, coworkers, whatever the case may be. That’s really something to think about.
The Prince and Timberance represents so much more than just a children’s book.
The Prince and Timberance represents so much more than just a children’s book. It is a story that will begin to change the dialogue about what black means from a child’s perspective. In this story black is intelligent, royal, kind, brave, noble, and beautiful. Characteristics that are seldom combined all together and attributed to people of African descent in children’s literature. And for bi-racial children, they will finally see something of the black side of their heritage that feels enchanting, not sobering, depressing, boring, or lack luster, but something that is truly special and enchanting. “The Prince and Timberance” is for children who have just started reading short chapter books (4th-6th grade). It explores friendship, loneliness, and alienation.
• Fairy tales have been around for hundreds of years. They are one of the most popular and loved genres in children’s literature. Whoever created the first one realized that the best, and easiest, way to teach the perils of greed, the ugliness of selfishness, the idea that good will conquer evil, and the importance of maintaining hope was to wrap these lessons/ideas up in an imaginative story laced with drama and suspense.
• It’s also important to note that it’s not the “maiden” in this story who needs to be saved. It’s the prince, and it is not love’s first kiss that will save him. It is the power of a true and lasting friendship.
• No one is telling our children that black is bad, and yet that message is still coming through. We can talk “at” our children all day long, every day, with the best of intentions, but we have to reach them on their level and on their terms. We have to work toward changing the internal dialogue of African-American children, so the next time experts do a Doll Study black children won’t associate bad qualities to the black doll and good qualities to the white doll.
“The Prince and Timberance” is my heartfelt gift to all children of any race who enjoy an excursion into the realm of Make Believe where dreams begin, but it will have a special meaning for children of African descent who, up until now, have been bystanders allowed to watch the dreams of others come true in that very special place called Make Believe.
-R. L. Omer
Author of “The Prince and Timberance”
−It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men−