Emily shared with us the moment the story behind Ballet with Heart was born.
“One night, my son with his dark skin and his afro locks looked into my eyes as we were reading yet another book about ballet in bed, and he asked me, “mummy, where is me? My son inherited his love for dance from his sister. Together, they attend classes and immerse themselves in ballet books and shows. It is uncommon to see brown ballerinas represented in books, toys, and media. Still, that trend is changing for the better. However, it is still infrequent to see boys represented in dance… or even differently-abled children. This is one of the things my books will challenge.”
The book is being developed in partnership with the Director of the International Ballet School, Ms. Gina Tse, a former Principal Dancer from the Royal Swedish Ballet Company. Together they hope to celebrate ballet as a multi-disciplinary art form that nurtures both inner strength and physical prowess.
Taking inspiration from her children: their anxieties, strengths, the school environment, and Ms. Gina herself, the story, which will be released in the summer of 2021, will focus on the different ways children challenge themselves. How they find the strength to follow their dreams and the importance of friendship. By having children of the African diaspora with a diverse group of friends, this book will make a great leap towards encouraging all children to feel welcome in classical dance.
Emily Joof is a Stockholm based author, education advisor, and mum of two. 3 years ago, she started writing children’s stories in response to some of the micro-aggressions and prejudice her children were facing. She is currently doing her doctoral research on how children’s books can be used to promote inclusion in preschools and is a firm believer that “reading books and telling stories is a powerful art form that builds inclusion, challenges stereotypes and affirms children’s self-esteem.”
Emily was raised in The Gambia together and her family do their best to raise their children to know their heritage and be proud of their Gambia roots. “We travel back and forth a lot and the kids would often ask me about things they had seen in The Gambia, their favourite food and drinks. My daughter asked me about the ditakh one evening. She had enjoyed the fruit as a frozen juice at her grandmother’s house in Kanifing and she wanted to read more about it. After some research I realised there were next to no picture books for children that showed the Gambia and some of the wonders we have in our little country.
I decided right then that I would write picture books, for my children and other children everywhere.”
Emily created her company Mbife Books and published her first book, Mangoes & Monkeybread which is the story of two children who discover kabba, soursop, plums and other delicious fruit from The Gambia.
Her second book is the story of a Gambian-Swedish family who share some of their favourite things. The reader can learn about Makasutu, Ebbeh, Kite Flying, Domoda and Kachikaly in the same book with Gotland, Swedish meatballs, and gingerbread cookies.
“It is important for my books reflect the African diasporan voices and experiences.” – Says Emily Joof
Living in Sweden, Emily realized there was an incredible gap in the children’s book landscape. The narratives and illustrations too often showed a distinct lack of representation of voices. “Picture books, in particular, should represent all children regardless of their ethnicity, ability, gender, social status.“
At MbifeBooks we believe in the arts, in inclusion, and in powering dreams. We trust that our third book Ballet with Heart will represent those ideals and more. The book will be illustrated by the Sawyer Cloud, a self-taught Madagascan illustrator who has worked on a number of books with larger publishing houses and independent authors alike.
Emily shared a few words in what she hopes her next book will achieve;
“I find that often people do things as they have always done until a light is cast on a particular behaviour, that causes pause, reflection and redirection. Dance is the most natural expression of human emotion. It is therapeutic, exhilarating and devoid of boundaries. I truly hope my picture book will incite others to take a leap. Because ballet is one of the art forms that appears so choreographed and prescriptive. To do ballet you can’t be short, or too muscular, or improvise much or even be a boy. That isn’t the ballet we subscribe to, we want to inspire dance for everyone, dancing for joy! dancing with your soul, hence Ballet with Heart.”
Throughout February Mbifebooks is running a crowdfunding campaign to supplement the production cost of the books.