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Marjuan Canady & Nabeeh Bilal celebrates Gullah culture with new children’s book



Photo: @Protopromo Instagram


“The Callaloo media brand is providing children of color a place where they can take pride in themselves and learn about African diaspora storytelling and culture uniquely.”- Marjuan Canady


Washington, DC duo Marjuan Canady, and Nabeeh Bilal break the glass ceiling for children books dedicated to people of color.


Wanting to change how children of color are reflected in children books and spark interest in cultural education, Canady and Bilal release their third children’s book, Callaloo: The Trickster and the Magic Quilt. Published on June 19th in dedication to Juneteenth in memory of freeing enslaved Africans through the Emancipation Proclamation.


Canady, the author of the book, and Bilal who mastered the illustrations evoke the spirit of Zora Neale Hurston and Walt Disney by combining both of their unique skills sets.


“It evokes the spirit of Zora Neale Hurston and Walt Disney because the combination of Marjuan and myself and our skills sets are pretty reminiscence of the two,” Bilal said.  “What Marjuan was doing on the African diaspora side, I took a very Disney esque mindset to a Hurston mindset of her work.”


The positive impact of Callaloo: The Trickster and the Magic Quilt lies in the fact that children will be able to understand the power of identity and learning about other cultures in the process.


“Children begin to search for their culture and where their identity lies. It sparks a whole discovery process,” Bilal said.


According to Canady, the purpose of the book also preserves the folklore so that people of color understand their history.


“The purpose of the book and brand is to bring cultural education to our readers, specifically for our black readers the black diaspora experience. It preserves the folklore, so we understand and honor our history,” Canady said.


High school friends, and graduates of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Bilal and Canady hope that children of color develop a love of literacy while reading the book.


With the belief that Callaloo: The Trickster and the Magic Quilt is just as important as the stories Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Beauty and the Beast, the creative duo pays homage to African culture, the South, Caribbean food, and the Gullahs. Gullah people can be found in Beaufort, SC and at St. Helena Island.


“We decided to go with Gullah because, over the years, a lot of African-American kids felt like they didn’t have folklore to celebrate. That’s not true, so we decided let’s look at the African-American experience of the Gullahs,” Canady said.


Canady mentions that she learned that 1 out of 4 African-Americans is connected to the region in many ways, specifically through African-American colloquial dialect.


“The terms “Bruh” and “Sis” are a part of the African-American colloquial dialect. We say these words, and through the folklore, these words came about on the plantation.  We created familial connections through the characters Bruh Rabbit, Sis Croc, and Bruh Wolf,” Canady said.


For Bilal, the illustrator learned that the Gullah culture is older than America.


“The Africans who came over here were already speaking a trade language because they weren’t all from the same region or same tribes and that’s how they were able to create the Gullah language. It fuses English words with some of their original African dialects,” Bilal said.


The process of Callaloo: The Trickster and the Magic Quilt took Bilal and Canady two and a half years. Bilal and Canady did extensive research visiting the Gullah people, South Carolina, and sites to see how their research could fit into their book.


“Once we got a solid manuscript, Nabeeh and I came together to decide what it’s going to look like. We were working with our editor about the storyline, storyboard, going page by page,” Canady said.


The research can be illustrated in the characters Winston and Zoe and are derived from people the puppeteers know. Winston represents the boy version of Canaday. Zoe and Winston were made to be relatable and reflect children of color visible in the world.


As writers of color continue to create stories that children of color want to hear and see, there may be difficulties for them to reach broader audiences. In Canady’s opinion, this is due to lack of resources and publishers not seeing the monetary profits the books people of color make.


While some authors and illustrators of color may compromise or deter telling their authentic stories, Canady and Bilal hope to defy the odds by taking Callaloo to a global scale.


“We see Callaloo occupying media, film, digital space as well as in children theaters. We hope to see our stories turn into animated cartoons as well as license are content to larger theater companies,” Canady said.


Canady and Bilal continue to spread the significance of celebrating the Gullah culture and various cultures to children all around the world with workshops, puppet performances, and storytelling. Their Callaloo Kids Summer Book Tour will showcase Callaloo: The Trickster and the Magic Quilt and ends August 18th.



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