Dr. Tamara Pizzoli wears many hats. She is the author of Ghanaian Goldilocks, a twist on the children’s classic which features little blond haired boy as the title character. She is also penning a series of multicultural ABC books with titles like F is for fufu and M is for Marrakech. She is an educator, publisher and director, but none of these titles describes what she is most proud of- her children. Dr. Pizzoli is busy shooting her upcoming web series, In Nero: Black Girls in Rome, ( the first two photos are from the portrait project featuring visual art from renowned photographer Sara Shamsavari based on that series) but took out a little time to answer a few questions for Blessed be the tie.
BBTT: I am sure you share my sentiments about motherhood. Any goal or accomplishment I achieve outside of the home pales in comparison to the rewards of being entrusted to rearing my children. Watching them develop into the people they are meant to be gives me heart joy. How do you find balance between your motherhood duties and your professional goals?
I think it’s a delicate dance. Recently I’ve resigned myself to going with the whimsy of the day more and more…not necessarily setting my own expectations for my day or my kids’ day but understanding that things unfold the way that they are supposed to. Giving up this false sense of control really helps with striking a balance between work and motherhood. You just pay attention to what you can when you can and always do what’s most important first.
BBTT: Ghanaian Goldilocks is a twist on the children’s classic. My daughter and I both agree that we enjoyed your riveting version more than the original. How did the idea for the book evolve?
Thank you! The idea came from watching my eldest son Noah explore his uncle’s new house a little more freely than what he normally would. I’d visited Ghana a few times in the past, and when I joked that Noah was acting like Goldilocks and he laughed hysterically, I knew it was a worthwhile idea to pursue. The Ghanaian culture really lends itself well to the retelling. We have fufu instead of porridge and stools instead of chairs. The story was just there waiting to be remixed, I feel.
BBTT: My daughter expressed that she enjoyed your take on the Goldilocks book because the characters were brown. There is a noticeable absence of book series that feature characters that look like us. How important is it for you to portray characters of color?
This is of supreme importance to me. I’m originally from a remarkably diverse town called Killeen, Texas. It’s adjacent to Fort Hood, the largest army base in the states. My friends growing up were Puerto Rican, Dominican, Guamanian, African, Korean, Black, White, Korean and Black, Korean and White, Korean and Mexican with a dash of Guamanian…I mean, I had this gorgeous cultural exposure and foundation my entire childhood. I do understand that not everyone has that privilege, and I feel that it’s my responsibility to share my own culture, and that of others, appropriately and responsibly and with a great deal of love. Children yearn to see themselves in imagery. They learn best through reference, not necessarily imitation…but visual cues and references. So, with that said, having the image of Goldilocks be a brown African boy with an afro is powerful indeed. Also, powerful, positive imagery is a wordless affirmation for young children. It tells them that not only do they matter, they teach.
BBTT: Between the pages of a children’s book I have traveled to distant lands on magic carpets, slain dragons and worked as a secret sleuth. If there were one children’s book that influenced your decision to pursue writing what would it be?
Miss Nelson is Missing by James Marshall It’s just genius. It’s just pure genius. I’ve loved it since the second grade. I adore children’s literature that teaches moral lessons without screaming them. Kids are so brilliant and pure. They understand nuance and undertone. Miss Nelson is Missing delivers so many powerful messages with humor and grace. I aimed to do the same with The Ghanaian Goldilocks.
BBTT: My blog, Blessed be the tie evolved from my realization that the broken relationship with my mother was affecting every other relationship in my life. The process of chronicling our journey to reconciliation has been therapeutic. There is something about pouring out those emotions that gives my soul release. In your book, Aunt Nappy you chronicle the life of your sister Nefeterius who earned her angel wings just more than a year ago. What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful soul. Losing a loved one is never easy, but with the publication of your book your sister is now immortal. Was the process of writing the book therapeutic for you?
OMG yes. Yes yes yes. I wrote that in a day over a cup of tea. It wrote itself, really. I sat down and just asked her to help me tell her story to her nephews. And once I started it just poured out of me. And I knew it was something she’d be proud of. She’d be honored. It was right to do. I’ve done so much work during the past year. I’m about to publish my sixth book in exactly one year. All that’s therapy. Art therapy. And this is why the arts should be back in school. The arts are so fundamental and important to growth and development and resilience and reconciliation and understanding. That’s another conversation, but it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about.
BBTT: Your series of ABC books is enchanting. I especially enjoy the juxtaposition of different languages. It is an excellent way to introduce different cultures. This question was submitted by may daughter, Lynn. Who is the narrator of the books?
Ah, I narrate the books. In The Ghanaian Goldilocks I enlisted the help of friends who lent their voices to different characters. Many of those friends were also used as visual references for The Ghanaian Goldilocks illustrations.
BBTT: Rearing children is definitely a team effort. However, every team has a most valuable player. Why would your children name you the real MVP?
I think my love and authenticity. I just adore them and love them so much and relate to them and understand them and want what’s best for them, like any mother. I have dreams for them that aren’t tainted by my own. I pray for their happiness, for their well-being, for their understanding. They’re my muses, as evidenced by my work. I think as they get older, they’ll understand that I loved them so much and thought about them so much and was inspired by them so much that all I could do was make art. And share it. Please nominate a mother for the real MVP. Tell me why she should be featured. My mom. She raised two loving, successful women. She’s on Facebook. Katharyn McPherson
Check out The Ghanaian Goldilocks Audiobook on YouTube! http://youtu.be/MWhSlX66fSw One lucky subscriber will win a copy of Dr. Pizzoli’s notebooks featuring multicultural hairstyles.