Can you imagine the look of pure joy when a child sees her reflection affirmed positively in a book cover? That’s exactly what happens when the books on this list reach little Black girls around the world. The connection is almost instant and touches the heart. This special collection of books was found with that audience in mind. The effect is even deeper when the image depicts one she never dreamt was possible for those who shared her skin complexion and hair texture. Witnessing the look on their faces has fueled my reason for being a part of the book industry. As owner of Afriware Books, Co, I have done extensive research to find this special curated list of books separated by the year they were published. I also have analyzed the publication availability and shared special insights about the industry.
African Princess Book List Through the Years
When I first met author Yaba Baker in 2007, I immediately realized the magnanimity of his accomplishment. I was attending my first Book Expo America (BEA) conference. He was exhibiting in the African American Pavilion. The conference is huge and one can easily get overwhelmed in the first few hours. As a Black owned bookseller, I was elated when I reached the pavilion because that was where I was certain to find titles of interest to our customers. With a sparkle in his eye and a broad smile, Baker proudly introduced himself and held up a copy of, “Princess Briana.” The cover had a picture of a Black girl with cornrows and a gold crown on her head. My first reaction, pure happiness. It was the first book of its kind that featured a princess who was Black.
Today’s "Wakanda Forever" exposed audience may not have the same appreciation for this cutting edge story, but for me, it was absolutely earth shattering. Books of this type have two benefits:
This was indeed an historical moment. When doing the research in preparation for this post, my inklings were confirmed. The earliest copyright date on the keyword search “african princess” is in fact, “Princess Briana.” And, to be honest, if I hadn’t remembered my experience, the book wouldn’t have been listed because somehow, the keywords used for it do not reveal the ethnicity of its contents, so it is grouped amongst all of the other princess books. Also, there were other “adaptations” of fairytale princess stories that did display Black princesses, but since they are not made available on a large platform, they are not as readily accessible. I wrote about this in another blog article called, “BLACK PRINCESS BOOKS AND OTHER BLACK FAIRY TALES.” In that post, fairy tales like “Beauty and the Beast,” were found to have African origins and therefore would predate all of those mentioned herein.
Baker’s book, however, moves the conversation into the mainstream and by creating a brand new character to stand in her own clear African light. And, this story is exceptional. It is about a princess who is sent to an all-white boarding school. She experiences racism from the head teacher which has a psychologically devastating effect on her. She ends up even bleaching her skin to excape her fate. Hopefully these few details about the story aid you in understanding why I heap so much praise on it. The similarity to present day reactions to racism are uncanny. A 3rd/4th grade reader, will identify with it immediately.
The other almost shocking distinction about this book is that the villain is depicted with white skin; a white female to be exact. While this may not seem like a big deal at first, it is exceptional in a society where evil is almost synonymous with being Black, this almost seems preposterous or in error. Again, racism is something that is experienced often in a society by the oppressed. Why wouldn’t it be depicted in literature unless those who have the power to publish such books wouldn’t deem it necessary nor understand its importance.
The oppressed often blame themselves first after experiencing racism. It may not even occur to us that the perpetrator is actually at fault. Without empathy, too many publisher’s wouldn’t deem it necessary nor interesting to invest in a story like that. This is why there’s such a scarcity of books available on the topic. The African proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter,” explains the phenomenon well. There is so much room for growth.
After the notable self publication of “Princess Briana,” in 2005, the number of stories on African Princesses grew in later years as follows:
With data like this, we do not have to wonder why “The Princess and the Frog” book was a sight for sore eyes when it was published after the blockbuster film by the same name in 2009. This builds a strong case for the need for diversity in books. It is an unfortunate common theme the publishing industry had to come to grips with after the murder of George Floyd when many books on the Black experience flew off the shelves. I discussed this in another blog post called, “Black Boy Joy - Books and More.”
I discuss the history of the industry in general, and how changes were influenced from public exposure specifically through an OpEd article. If there are internal audits done on diversity in publishing, it is clear that it is not sufficient. Just as the Better Business Bureau, or Consumers Advocacy Groups monitor business practices, there is a need for the same in the publishing industry. For years, Black authors have had a fight on their hands trying to knock down these doors and add new perspectives. When those doors to mainstream book publishers do not open, many have turned to independent publishing. While the exposure and reach is not as wide, social media has helped to provide another pathway for needed balance in the market. It is nowhere near enough, but, it is a start that must be acknowledged. From there, we are building.
I want to make sure to mention that of the books listed from 2005-2014, half of the authors are not Black authors. Rachel Isadora (work pictured above), a gifted writer and illustrator is not a Black woman. It will be useful moving forward to monitor this aspect of the publishing industry as well. There is a term used when awarding City/Federal contracts to "minority" businesses posing as Black owned called "fronts." I don't mean to imply that all non-Black authors are "fronting," however, let us make sure there is at a minimum, an equal representation here as well. Knowing that the audience is likely overwhelmingly African/African-American, the authors and illustrators should reflect this as well. This is a topic for a much longer post, that may be forthcoming, or, I welcome others to hop in and do the analysis. The more eyes on this situation, the better.
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read more books about African princesses for children. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Special thanks to Ako and Fanta Mutota for recommending that I attend the BEA. You’ve provided years of training and guidance in the book industry that were invaluable.
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