Once Upon a Time: An interview with children's storyteller Dr Tamara Pizzoli

A chance interview with the writer of story book 'The Ghanaian Goldilocks' got me thinking about my childhood and how a good narrative can be the catalyst for firing the imagination, encouraging a love of reading and celebrating free thinking.
The English Schoolhouse. image credit: Howell Edwards Creative
Even though the book is primarily aimed at children, I was drawn to how US-born Ghanaphile Dr Tamara Pizzoli (who lives in Italy) turned our idea of Goldilocks on its head by depicting the classic character as a Black boy from Ghana with a golden-tipped afro. 

And did I mention the book is inspired by her first-born son Noah?

....Fresh, novel and inspiring - I thought - which is why I wanted to share her thoughts with you.

In the first of three instalments, I ask the mother-of-two about the importance of storytelling, her love of Ghana and what future creative projects she has up her sleeve.

MisBeee: I love the way you've turned this classic on its head. You've really helped to open up the discourse on storytelling and the role of the storyteller. Was that your plan?

Tamara: My plan was to add to the ‘not necessarily’ perspective that children innately have and fairy tales encourage, particularly classic fairy tales. So the story Hansel and Gretel teaches children that just because someone appears kind and sweet doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. Red Riding Hood is a lengthy lesson about not telling too much of your business and being cautious of strangers.

MB: So true!
Tamara: One of the highlights of 2014, for me, was reading aloud to a small group of children at this great store called Pan African Connection during the summer in Dallas. The owner’s granddaughter, who was maybe around four or five years old, had seen and read 'The Ghanaian Goldilocks' before because they carry it in the store.

I sat down to read and began by asking this group of maybe 10 kids, “What do you know about Goldilocks?” As the other kids began to say things like, “She’s a little girl” and “with blonde hair” and something or another about naughty behaviour and three bears, the owner’s granddaughter said, “No, Goldilocks is a boy who lives in Africa.” 

I really was in awe and beaming in that moment, because her perspective changed based on having read 'The Ghanaian Goldilocks'. She understood that Goldilocks doesn’t necessarily have to be a naughty little blonde girl. The story could happen anywhere; the characters could look like anyone.

MB: That's really powerful. So how does your son Noah feel about being the inspiration for your first book?

TP: He loves it. He very much sees Kofi as a character though. The other day on the train he was colouring my business card, which features the cover of 'The Ghanaian Goldilocks', and he said something like, “I’m Noah, this is Kofi; he just looks like me.” My youngest son Milo also thinks the book is about him. He’ll look at the cover and say, “Sono io.” (“That’s me.” in Italian) Noah doesn’t correct him. I love that.

MB: What age group are your books targeted at and do you see yourself eventually writing for an older audience?

TP: They’re trade books, and I find that they’re appropriate for ages birth to 10, even though I’ve had teenagers and adults tell me how much they enjoyed 'The Ghanaian Goldilocks' and 'Auntie Nappy' ( a book that attempts to address the cycle of life and death to a young audience after Tamara's sister died suddenly of cancer).

The writing is high level, and that’s purposeful. I’ve been an early childhood educator for over a decade. Read alouds are one of the most effective ways to enhance children’s vocabularies. I’ve seen new moms say that they’ll wait to get the book because it’s too advanced for their toddler, but I disagree with that perspective.

Reading aloud high-level children’s literature is one of the best gifts you can give your kid. You might not be able to finish in one sitting, but a couple of pages at a time is completely appropriate and such an enhancement.

I have quite a few writing projects for adults I’m working on at the moment, actually. Some are collaborative writing pieces and one in particular is about the life lessons I learned after losing my sister unexpectedly.

In the next instalments, Tamara talks about her love of Ghana and explores the relevance of pronunciation and accents in her book. Check it out here and  here.

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