Vanessa Raphaely, a mom of three, editor and writer, and the former editor of Cosmo magazine and partner in and content director of Associated Media Publishing. She's has just published a gorgeous kid's book called Princess Pincushion (R140 on Takealot), the first of a series fo books to help kids on those inevitable issues such as poor body image, loneliness and bullying.
Princess Pincushion, the Majestic Warthog Princess of Rains, Plains and Sky Above is, as Vanessa describes, a feisty adventurer with great spirit, who will help – with humour and tenderness – parents discuss quite challenging issues that affect their kids.
The first book in the series deals with body image and the desire to look perfect, the second with loneliness and "not fitting in," and the third with bullying and male privilege.
I loved the book, and I just wanted to huge Princess Pincushion, but she's also a character I identify with, while wanting to be her friend. I also wanted to high five her at the end of the book, after she makes a life-shifting realisation. It's a book I'd be excited to read to my daughter one day, and I imagine she'd get enormous value out of it, plus some giggles too.
I asked Vanessa about her book, which is published by Art Publishing.
Why did you decide to write a book/s? Has it always been a dream/wish to write them?
I wrote the world's worst novel last year and was a bit burned by my failure! But I've always felt strongly about the challenges facing young women and girls and my little royal warthog, Princess Pincushion, African Warthog Princess of Rains, Plains and Sky Above, sprung into my mind, (fully formed,) as a way, to perhaps help parents talk about some uncomfortable and worrying subjects that could be affecting their Under 10s.
What was the process in getting the book illustrated and published and on shelf? How long did it take?
I was lucky that Brett Hilton Barber and Robyn Spracklyn from Art Publishers liked the idea enough to go with it based on a two line pitch: " How about a book about a royal warthog princess with an adventurous spirit and robust ( but not perfect,) self esteem?"
Paige Nick, who is every South African aspirant writer's fairy godmother hooked me up with Karen Vermeulen, who is Pincushion's brilliant illustrator. It's been a very happy, though slow, (slow for me, I'm impatient!) collaboration since then.
What were your favourite books growing up?
I loved Eloise by Kay Thompson, anything by Maurice Sendak, The Gone-away lake and Five-story mistake series by Elizabeth Enright. The wickedest witch in the world By Beverley Nichols, all the pony books by the Pullen-Thompson sisters. I read like a vacumn cleaner when I was young.
What were your kids' favourite books when they were younger?
My kids when they were little were all about Hairy McClary, Julia Donaldson, Olivia … the littlest one now reads The Elementia Chronicles, David Walliams, The Tree House series, Big Nate, Middle School, Shouty Kid. Two out of three of my children are great readers.
What is the first book about, and what is the message?
The first book is about the tyranny of having to look a particular way. The second is about loneliness and not fitting in. The third is about bullying and male privilege! I've been told they're delightful, funny and charming and very entertaining stories, despite their subject matter.
Why does this message/theme resonate so strongly?
I hope it resonates! Firstly because Pincushion is African (like us,) sweet, funny and brave. I hope everyone loves her a little.
With regard to the subject matter of the first book, a study just undertaken by the Girl Guides Association, in the UK, found that over 48% of girls aged 7-11 report dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the way they look. Another one, undertaken by the NHS in the U.K. found that a similar number of girls under the age of 18 reported serious incidences of depression, anxiety and self-harm.
I think this epidemic of quite worrying sadness is fuelled by much of the media available to even very young girls today. So, while I don't imagine a kid's book will make any significant impact on what is clearly an enormous problem, there's clearly a need for more positive reassurance for little girls. I'm hoping that, as all the books are read-alongs, parents can use them to gently discuss and explore issues such as, in the first one, body image. And likewise the subjects tackled in the next books in the series.
Do you think we’re not educating our kids properly about self esteem and positive body image?
Yes I think we all wish to raise young women with robust self-esteem, good body image, a happy group of supportive friends and the guts to take on the world. But it's not easy! I imagine this book will speak to under 10s of all ages. It is written in warthog, not English, though, so I hope everyone will understand it! I'm not an experienced writer for children – so I'm holding thumbs.
What age/s is the book suited for, and do you think there’s a message for moms there too?
By the time a girl is 7 she becomes aware of her physical self in relation to the world around her. At that point, her little body probably still resembles a sturdy little cherub, maybe with a round tummy, thighs and face. However, she'll be flooded by advertising, toys, social media, even Disney, force-feeding a diet of unrealistic body images down her throat. (Look at the Disney Princesses with their waspish waists!)
The ubiquity of these images of what women and girls should look like are relentless – it's quite hard for anyone (not only little girls,) not to feel inadequate. This diet of body perfection, affects the moms too, so I think it's incredibly hard to raise kids in this environment. No judgement! I have a teenage daughter I know how tough it is.
As a former magazine editor, do you think you think more about these self esteem/body image issues?
Yes, I guess I do. But these days – visual representation of perfect body imagery is not restricted to magazines. Social media is so overwhelming its impact on the consumers psyche dwarfs any harm magazines might ever have had. Back then, people chose to consume that sort of content, by buying magazines or watching tv and movies.
And by its nature it was restricted. Adults bought magazines! Now it's intravenously fed to you by your own device – no matter what age: porn, celebrities, other people's " perfect " lives 24/7. It's unedited. So I think every parent has to consider it as a threat to their kids' well-being and consider a response to it.
What other books are coming up, and when?
We plan an activity book for early next year and the second story book by June.
Why do you think parents should read the book?
I can only hope parents read it and are charmed by her. Pincushion is, I think, a very delightful, funny, character. Plus… warthogs are not often the star of any book, so it would be supportive of a wonderful but humble animal, to do so!