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October is Black History month, providing us with a great opportunity to recognise positive actions taken within Black communities. It’s a pleasure to undertake an interview with this month’s guests, new authors, Telena Longmore and Chanel Kennedy. Their children’s book, ‘Ava’s Magical Hair Adventure’ positively tackles an issue that many girls, teenagers and women of African and Caribbean descent will be able to relate to.
Keep reading to find out how this one-of-a-kind book hit the shelves recently…
Ava’s Magical Hair Adventure is an empowering children’s book about hair, starring Hairy Fairy. Join Hairy Fairy and Ava on a magical adventure, exploring hair through history and time. The book is a fiction fantasy, with an empowering and educative message. You’re drawn into the emotional awakening Ava has of herself. She overcomes beauty standards and feels a part of something. In the end, she falls in love with the roots of her hair.
Chanel: I run a mobile hairdressing business for mums who need help with styling. I also offer advice on how parents can look after their kid’s hair. Separately, I run workshops so that attendees can get hands on advice too. I’ve worked a little bit in childcare before, but not as much as Telena. I simply have a love and interest in empowering children.
How did you become co-authors/meet?
Telena: We’re cousins, so we’ve known each other since birth! We have a large family with lots of girls and writing this book was always something that was always going to happen.
So what was created first, the character Ava or the story behind it?
Chanel: It was the story behind it. Ava was inspired by Telena’s young daughter.
What was the motivation for writing this book?
Telena: For me it was my daughters and for Chanel it was her sisters that inspired us to write this book. Once they got to around 3, 4 years old, they started to notice the difference between themselves and their peers. That’s when their self-doubt and image consciousness came into play. At that time, we couldn’t find anything else that merged the ideas of loving themselves and the history behind why they should within a children’s book.
Chanel: That’s right, we couldn’t find an engaging children’s book, with great graphics that would keep children reading it, again and again.
Describe the ideal person/s that you would like to read this book?
Telena: This book is for all young girls (from 3 to 8) that are feeling doubt, low self-esteem, underrepresented and with a negative image about themselves. It’s for those girls that don’t like having curly hair who believe that their image is not beautiful.
Chanel: Years ago, we didn’t have the resources or the platform to get to know our history and understand why our mums made sure that our hair was done perfectly on a Sunday for school the next day. This book gives girls the chance to take a moment and understand themselves and learn about their roots and inner beauty.
What were your hair experiences like growing up?
Chanel: When I was young, I was confident about my hair and natural until about 16. As soon as I relaxed my hair it broke and got shorter. I ended up growing out the relaxer and doing a big chop and that’s when I needed to research my hair regarding products and routine and once I had that, I loved my hair again, even more than I did when I was a child. I embraced it more and convinced others to come with me on my hair journey.
Telena: For me, I was 13 when my mum had had enough of doing my hair and took me to get it relaxed. From that there it was a cycle of it breaking and growing. The turning point was when I went to the hairdressers for a bob and came out with a pixie hairstyle! But that started my natural hair journey which was 12 years ago. My hair has never been as healthy and as long.
What are your hopes for this book?
Telena: Good question!
Chanel: We want this to get out there across the UK, US and African countries. We want this book to be found by every girl that feels underrepresented or who hates their hair or who wants to see themselves in a lovely book. We’ve also got a catchy song that goes with the book and we have plans to create more content that tackles different hair stigmas.
I see on your website that there’s an activity page with things to make and do. What are you long term plans for the website?
Chanel: The website has resources for children like wordsearches, colouring pages and spot the differences sheets, which are free to download and print. As well as Avas’ favourite recipes. When designing the website, we wanted to create a space that allowed readers to continue to engage with the book and its message.
And for Ava, how do you envisage an expansion of her character?
Telena: She may make another appearance. The plan is to create a boy’s book next to cover hair difficulties for them.
Is there an aspect of the book that you are particularly pleased with, which stands out for you?
Telena: For me, it’s the characters. I love each of them and we took the time to develop them and we feel that really comes across. Especially Hairy Fairy, we’d like her to become a household image for girls.
Chanel: For me it’s the cover, that really emits joy and excitement.
You both run your own separate businesses – how did you make the time to develop this book?
Telena: As with anything, you have to make time to see something through. We dedicated days to be work together on the book. It helped that we are already really close.
Chanel: Initially, we spent a lot of time together working on the development and then later on we started to divide the jobs up.
Since launching this book, what’s the feedback been like?
Telena: It’s been amazing! Just yesterday I received a message from an Aunty who’s white, who bought the book for her niece who hates her curls and has a poor body image. She was so pleased to find a book with a character that represented her niece. It honestly bought me to tears. She said that it will help her niece through this transitional stage. We’ve had a few messages like this and this is the reason why we created the book in the first place.
What’s your strategy been with regard to marketing the book?
Chanel: We’re reaching out to different subscription boxes, independent bookstores and online book review blogs and influencers. It involves using a lot of social media advertising, as well as some print adverts. The first push relied heavily on our family and friends' support.
I see that your website has links to Facebook and Instagram – which social media platforms do you find works best for you?
Chanel: Definitely Instagram. We’re also on TikTok to help promote the song and we have different competitions to do with styling hair.
For other budding authors, could you briefly describe the process you went through to get this book together; in relation to finding the right illustrator, editor, and printer?
Telena: The easiest part for us was creating the story and the hardest part was finding the illustrator. We wanted the book to be bright and engaging. We want to be the next Julia Donaldson. It took us four searches to find the right illustrator; finding someone that could visually interpret our ideas properly.
Chanel: Finding the editor wasn’t too difficult.
Could you give your top three tips?
Telena: Don’t procrastinate, just do it and get it done!
Looking back, is there anything along your journey that you would have done differently?
Telena: To have gone straight to the illustrator that we found last!
Is there another book in you both? Has this stirred up any other ideas that you’d be interested in seeing in print form?
Telena: Yes, we have a lot more ideas with a lot more content coming through our publishing company. Fitting it all in isn’t easy but it’s easier doing it with Chanel.
Interested in finding out more or how to go about purchasing this book? You can contact the authors directly by email or go to their website, Facebook or Instagram accounts.