Thursday, September 3, 2009


I found a copy of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe in the last Fully Booked sale at 80 off. Of course, I bought it; it was one of my favorite story books back when I was that little squirt who thought Nancy Drew was a ghost hunter.

I liked this book a lot because the pictures looked so different from what I was used to; this is a fairy tale--not a Grimm Brothers', but it had the same elements: a good sister, a wicked sister, magic, adventure...handsome prince--the works! What made it so interesting was the fact that it was different.

Growing up reading western books, I was used to seeing beautiful princesses who had long blonde hair and fair skin, blue eyes and red lips. You can just imagine how a book with the word 'beautiful' in the title and a brown face on the cover would have stuck out like a sore thumb among the many typical illustrated fairy tale books on the shelf to a western-beauty-brainwashed kid like me.

I picked up the story and enjoyed it very much--it was mesmerizing to look at the African images; I especially remember how the beggar boy's ear curled at the tip. The story was about two daughters, both beautiful. One wanted to be queen and the other just wanted to serve her father. One day, the king gave a summons to all the unmarried ladies in the land to come and meet him--he was looking for a wife. On the way to the palace (the sisters did not travel together), there were "tests" and the wicked sister failed them while the good sister passed. It's a story about beauty within: kindness, sincerity, charity.

It's interesting also to note that, having a "realistic" art style, the book is not really the type I would have instantly picked off the shelf--I would prefer to get the ones with the cute cartoon-y illustrations because, by experience, they tend to be funnier. But this book I got intrigued with because, besides it being African, I wanted to see if there was an image in it where the daughters really did look beautiful. (You have to excuse this kid.) They weren't conventionally (biased word) pretty but by the time I finished reading, I agreed that they were beautiful. Perhaps that was why the illustrations were more on the realistic side?

In any case, this is a book about real beauty, overlooking skin color, eye color, nose shape, lip thickness, hair texture and lash length. Nowadays, pop culture insists that beauty has only one face--preferably one that went "under the knife." But even kids would know that isn't true, if you gave them the opportunity to think it over. Because no matter how hard a brainwashing the media gives a person, every one, deep down, knows that what makes a person truly beautiful is the virtues that dwell in the heart.


sunnyday said...

What a mature little squirt you were -- giving a book like that a chance! I wouldn't have given it a second like because like you said, the image of the blond, blue-eyed heroine was what many of us had gotten used to.

I'm thinking hard but I cannot recall ever having a storybook that had brown-skinned characters in the drawings.

Is the book's author African?

petrufied said...

Maturity had nothing to do with it...I had a lot of time in my hands hehe (and now you know where I spent it on). Time spent reading leads to many discoveries! XD

John Steptoe wasn't African, but he was African American. He grew up in the States and made his name in children's books there. But for this book he did some extra research, which made him appreciate his heritage more.

sunnyday said...

Impressive :-) He wasn't in his homeland and yet he did something that brought out the beauty of his heritage for others to appreciate as well.

It would do us well to follow suit, methinks. We're in our own country and we have a lot of good things going for us as a people, starting with our culture... and look at the level of appreciation we display. That is, if images of people on billboards and small print ads are to be an accurate gauge. Have you ever seen an undercurrent of disdain for the brown race as much as what's apparent on ads in magazines and billboards? We are a beautiful race and what seems to be exulted here? Caucasian features. Go figure.

This reminds me of Velvet's letter -- we are a beautiful race and of course who should we glorify? Our beautiful brown people :-) Go, Pinoy! :-D

petrufied said...

Agreed! Hopefully more of the Pinoy beauty comes through in the media culture. :D Let's write to those big media and advertising companies hehe