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Creative Spotlight: Interview with Angela Simpeh

20 Jan 2016

Allow me to introduce you to Angela Simpeh, creator of The Adventures of Sky. This series of books aims to educate and celebrate young black children through empowering images that they can recognise themselves in. I sat down with Angela to find out what motivated My Curly Hair, the first book in the series. We discussed the importance of creating spaces for children to explore identity and cultural heritage and much more.

gal-dem: Have you always wanted to write children’s books?

Angela Simpeh: No, I’m a lawyer so writing children’s books is something completely new for me.

So what motivated you to write ‘The Adventures of Sky’ at this particular time?

At the beginning of the year my cousin introduced me to a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  It’s a book about unlocking your creativity and it’s been the single biggest inspiration in getting me writing.  From reading that book, The Adventures of Sky idea came to me.  The first book in the series, My Curly Hair, centres around Sky and her family. Each book explores a different theme; for example My Curly Hair is about heritage and self-love.

This book was inspired by my daughter. She went through a phase where she wanted Princess Elsa-hair (from the Disney movie Frozen).  I said that her hair is beautiful, that it is soft and curly like clouds and candy floss. She liked the idea but she was not completely convinced. The lawyer in me started thinking “if I could present her with further evidence I could win the case”. From that My Curly Hair was born and it worked: my daughter loves Sky!

And what reactions have you gotten from other children?

The reactions from children have been amazing! One girl left me a long voice message saying how much she loved the book and how she told her parents to start calling her Sky but they don’t listen and keep calling her by her real name. 

Ha, amazing! And do you feel like that happens often, that your daughter and other BME children are able to look at a book and identify with the characters in such a way?

Well, after my daughter made the comment about wanting Princess Elsa hair, one of the first things I did was look for children’s books with diverse characters. The first thing that struck me was the lack of diversity in children’s literature. So I had to search online to find the books I was looking for. One of them was a beautiful book called Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough.   Another great book is I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley.

When I first saw My Curly Hair, I fell in love with the beautiful illustrations by Michelle Gore. Why do you think it is so important that black girls see representations of themselves in art and the media?

Michelle is such an amazing talent and lovely person. I am forever grateful to her for breathing life into the stories.

I think there is something incredibly affirming and powerful about seeing positive images of yourself reflected back in art and media; especially for children who soak in so much from their environment.

In My Curly Hair there’s also an obvious emphasis on heritage and culture being passed down through black hairstyles. Why do you think young children should learn about these origins?

I think it is important for children to understand their personal history as it feeds into their identity. It gives them something to anchor themselves to. I think it is especially important for children of the diaspora who may be less familiar about some aspects of their culture and heritage.

In writing the book I was conscious that for some children it might be the first time they have read a book about Africa and I wanted to introduce the continent in a positive way. I hope the book can be used as an entry point to start broader conversations about heritage and culture.

Although the book is superficially about hair, at its core it is a book about self-love and about understanding and being proud of who you are.

Yes! But let’s be real, we’ve all had to wrestle with our hair at times. It’s also important that we can talk about that too. What’s was your relationship with your hair growing up?

Growing up I didn’t know what to do with my hair! I used to go into Boots and Superdrug and buy hair mousses and hair gels which I painfully discovered were not made for me.

I am grateful we now live in an age of YouTube tutorial videos. Those sisters have saved my life over and over again.

I really don’t know how we survived without them. Can you remember your worst bad hair day?

Ha!  Good question.

Look, I’ll go first. So one time, as I was jumping off the bus, my wig got caught in the door and the bus drove off with it (and my dignity). Your turn.

Okay, the day that comes to mind is one of my first ever dates.  At the time I had long relaxed hair and it was a big night, so my hair was fully loaded with products.  We ended up sitting in the corner of this trendy bar with these ornate tea candles dotted around our high table.  Towards the end of the evening my date leaned in real close and I thought he was about to say something romantic or maybe even a kiss!  Instead he said “I think your hair is on fire”. Arghhhhhh!!!  Thankfully it was only a small flame which I quickly doused but even thinking about it all these years later I can feel the embarrassment.  But shout out to the guy, he was incredibly sweet about it.

Oh no, worst date but the best story!

One of the first things we learn about Sky is that she loves stories. What’s the next story we can look forward to hearing with Sky and where is she taking us on her next adventure?

The next book is a space adventure, where Sky gets to learn about our solar system and beyond.  It also introduces Sky’s big brother. It will be released early next year.

‘My Curly Hair’ is available to buy online at www.adventuresofsky.com.