Imagia and the Magic Pearls

Disney's The Princess and The Frog opened in theaters earlier this month, and everyone is lauding Disney for featuring their very first African American princess and bringing African American culture to the forefront. Over in the literary field, author Monroe S. Tarver is also breaking new ground: his new children's book, Imagia and the Magic Pearls, features an African-American elf princess. The folks over at Wizarding World Press were kind enough to send me an advance copy of his book, as well as some collector’s item trading cards. Here's what I thought of it:

The Basics
Imagia and the Magic Pearls is the story of the elf princess, Imagia, who sneaks out of her palace and finds adventure, danger and friends. Here's what the publishers have to say about this book:

Dear Listener, Let me tell you a tale of a world with three suns...of a gleaming pearl palace...and the elf-princess, Imagia, who dreams of playing with friends, like any other child. But she can t be like other kids she s a princess. Imagia s time is filled with the lessons that will allow her to rule one day. She isn t allowed to leave the palace, where her only contact is with grownups. So, she is left to imagine what it might be like if she could be like other elf kids. That imagination is the princess s best gift (although she is also rather fond of a certain bag of magic pearls). Imagia s imagination is very strong, and she uses it to understand the world around her. She really does try to be good, and she respects her parents. But, when yet another birthday comes along, and she is again stuck inside the palace, Imagia is frustrated. She gives in to temptation when she stumbles upon a way to sneak out of the palace and meet some friends. Imagia does find friends in the forest, but finds scary stuff too. She learns that both friendship and danger can come in strange forms, as her seemingly innocent excursion takes unexpected twists and turns. The princess journeys to the Green Towers along with her new friend, Flutterwalk. Together, they must outwit the evil witch-queen, Baddora, and her winged pet. During her adventures, Imagia makes many discoveries the most important being the true power of imagination. Come inside and grab a comfy chair while I tell you the story. Would you care to join me for a sweet potato? Signed, M.T., Mapmaker and Storyteller

The Bongga
The best thing about this book is that Tarver is unafraid to challenge the fantasy literature industry's preference for pale-skinned Caucasian heroines. I love that his elf princess is also an ethnic princess, complete with braided hair and caramel colored skin. I know what it's like growing up reading about blond, blue-eyed princesses, then looking down at my own skin. It builds an inferiority complex that's so subtle you hardly know it's there. As a parent, I want to show my children that even heroes and heroines come in all shapes and colors, and this story is a great way to do that. I can only imagine how heartening books like this must be to parents who want to read stories to their children that have characters they can relate to!

The Blah
The Pea seemed engrossed in the book, but I found the storyline rather complicated and convoluted, with too many characters to keep track of. I received an advance publisher's manuscript, not the actual book, so I'm hoping that the numerous typos I encountered have been fixed. Also, I can't comment about the quality of the the binding or the cover or the pages, but the illustrations seem a bit rough and childish. And what's with Imagia's blue eyes? I thought Tarver wanted to create a character that girls of color could identify with? And speaking of identifying, I think most girls will have a problem figuring out how to pronounce Imagia (even though Tarver has a nice, witty little pronounciation guide at the beginning), and even if they do, they may not relate to the name, which seems a bit forced (Get it? Imagia, as in imagination?).

The Bottom Line
There's a sad lack of women of color in fantasy literature, and Imagia and the Magic Pearls helps fill this gap where it matters the most -- with young children. Despite its faults, I think young girls of color will enjoy this book simply because the heroine is someone they can relate to and aspire to be like.

I received a sample in order to review this product, but no monetary compensation. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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