Bianca Flanders’s book for children Pumpkin finds her Queen has been a sensation since it was launched. It tells the story of a young girl who hates her curly hair and then learns to accept it. Irna Van Zyl chats to the author.
You are an actress, voice artist and teacher who has just published your first book for children. How did it happen?
I have always been an avid reader. I absolutely love books. Acting is storytelling, so I thought it would be nice to use writing as a vehicle for the story instead of the stage for once. I had some time so I thought I’d try my hand at writing.
It looked from social media as if there was an amazing response to your book.
There has been an incredible response to the book, which is very affirming. It definitely took a lot of work (from both myself and the publisher), much more than I had expected, but it was absolutely worth it. This is a very new area for me so I’m learning such a lot and absolutely loving it.
Why did you write the book?
Representation is important. When I was growing up, none of the characters in my storybooks looked like me. South Africa is so rich in diversity, I think everyone should be able to see themselves on the page.
I wrote the book that I never had. I wanted to create a hero that I wish I had when I was a little girl. I also wanted to write about a topic close to my heart. Hair has always been a controversial topic in my community.
I hated my hair when I was younger and it was quite a process to learn to love it. I hope that this book will save little people the struggle that I had to go through.
That by reading it, they will feel proud of themselves, and instead of worrying about hair they’ll have more space in their brains to think about how they want to become president one day, or maybe become a pilot.
Pumpkin finds her Queen is the story about a little girl that accepts her appearance. Could you tell us more about the book?
The book is about her journey with her hair, which she doesn’t really like. (She has big, bushy, curly hair). She eventually learns that it is our differences that make us special.
Was hair an issue for you growing up?
Hair was definitely an issue for me when I was growing up. I always wanted straight hair and would beg my mom to blow-dry it for me.
When did you make peace with your hair and your appearance?
It was only at the age of 14, when I heard India Arie’s song Video, that I first started wearing my hair curly.
That was like an awakening for me, the idea of self-acceptance, and loving the skin that you’re in. Seeing a black woman wear her hair with pride, and daringly so, had such a massive impact on me.
That’s why it’s so important that everyone is able to see themselves in literature, in film, and in music. When we feel seen, we feel that we matter, that we’re important.
What’s next for you – more writing or rather acting?
I’d like to keep doing both and not have to choose. For me, they’re both just different ways of telling stories, so as long as I can keep doing that, I’m happy.