Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

murfarosbeautifuldaughtersI love fairy tales! Just something about being able to escape into another world and talk of magic, love and adventure and of course it’s a bit nostalgic, some of the first books read to me were fairy tales.  I am always on the look out for new fairy tales, or retold versions of fairy tales and I loved Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – another Cinderalla story.

Mufaro’s two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha are indeed very beautiful – lovely skin and hair. However, Manyara is kind in front of her father, but when he is not around  she is cruel to her younger sister Nyasha. Nyasha is kind and gentle in private and in public. The King of their land announces that he will marry the most worthy and beautiful girl in the land and so every girl who is eligible is to come to the great city where he will select his bride. Manyara, attempts to keep her sister from going and then when that fails she leaves early hoping that by arriving first she will be chosen to be queen.

What I like most about the illustrations is that Steptoe basis his art on the actual flora and fauna of Zimbabwe and his work really draws you into the story. Vibrant birds, animals and flowers transport you to Africa. The tale is based on book written by G.M. Theal, first published in 1895 entitled Kaffir Folktales. According to Theal the story was told by people living near the ruins of a city in Zimbabwe. Modern archeologists believe the ruins were once a large prosperous city with a thriving trade center.

I highly recommend this book and in many ways I like this fairytale more than the Brothers Grim version of Cinderella.  In the European version of Cinderella  the stepsisters are ugly on both the outside and the inside implying that only those who are beautiful can be kind and good. However, in this book Manyara is beautiful only on the outside – inside she is cruel and selfish. I really like that concept and I liked that the King was looking for the most worthy and most beautiful and in that order. Implying that what is on the inside matters more than outward appearances. This book has a different version of physical beauty, it is not the stereotypically buxom, blue-eyed, blond barbie type. Physical beauty has many faces. I remember reading a biography of Maya Angelou, where as a child she wanted blond straight hair so she could be beautiful and I have read similar stories from other African American women. So I think this book has a definite place in children’s literature and I want to add it to my fairy tale collection.

I thought this book would be appropriate to feature during Black History Month, so much of African American history, at least the way it is traditionally presented in schools, is about slavery and the horrible hardships suffered by those in bondage. I am Not saying that  slavery shouldn’t be taught because clearly it is a major part of United States history. I simply wanted to recognize other parts of African heritage that didn’t focus on slavery, but rather focused on the beauty and richness of African American roots.

To learn more about John Steptoe see this link. Here is an excerpt from Harper Collins Children’s Author Biographies

While all of Mr. Steptoe’s work deals with aspects of the African American experience, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters was acknowledged by reviewers and critics as a breakthrough. Based on an African tale recorded in the 19th century, it required Mr. Steptoe for the first time to research African history and culture, awakening his pride in his African ancestry. Mr. Steptoe hoped that his books would lead children, especially African American children, to feel pride in their origins and in who they are. “I am not an exception to the rule among my race of people,” he said,

John tragically passed away at the age of 38. Thank you John for sharing your passion and beauty with us.

What is beauty or how do we share it with those around us?

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6 thoughts on “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

  1. That looks really good. I love fairy tale retellings too. And frankly, the Grimm versions are creepy. (They’re really really creepy in the original German. Yikes.)

  2. Britt – It is really good. I love a fairy tale retellings too! Although this one is not what I would call a retelling just from a different culture then the European Cinderella. Yeah Grimms fairy tales aren’t exactly Disney in English so I bet in the original language they could be worse.

    Framed – It is a beautiful story, well worth reading.

    Robin – I was saddened to learn that the author died at such a young age. Glad to know that you are familiar with some of his other work and like it.

    Holly – Yes, go and read the book. It’s wonderful.

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