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Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls - Atinuke, ill.by Onyinye Iwu



Three charming stories about a young girl who lives in a flat in Lagos with her sister, Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmummy, who is very bossy. Too Small Tola is just the right size to fit under the bed and rescue Grandmummy's most prized possession when it goes missing. Her abilities in maths prove to be very helpful when Grandmummy becomes ill. In the title story, though Grandmummy can't afford to buy Tola new clothes, Tola turns out to be just as fine as the three fine girls she so greatly admires. A book full of heart and humour by multi-award-winning author and storyteller Atinuke, with artwork by Onyinye Iwu, a fabulous new talent in children's illustration.


Thank you to Walker Books for asking me to be part of the blog tour for this amazing collection of three stories about the brilliantly independent and determined Tola, her brother and sister, and the fierce 'mama mighty' (now one of my favourite book characters!!). Full of fun, love, humour and messages of kindness and care, this is a great set of tales with loveable characters and events set in the city of Lagos. Describing Tola's life and the sometimes serious challenges she faces in an honest yet child-friendly way, Tola is a character that readers are bound to love, and I was lucky enough to be able to ask author Atinuke and illustrator Onyinye some questions about the stories and characters.


Atinuke

(Qusetion) Why did you choose to write a short story collection...is it a link back to traditional tales with a moral? Why not a picture book? I'd love to have seen Onyinye’s full colour pictures of Tola et al!!

(Answers) Short story collections give me more words to describe the world my characters live in - and more room for them to get up to shenanigans. But it's good idea! Maybe Tola picture books next!

Are there more plans for Tola - will we get to see her fulfil dreams or ambitions (as sister and brother do...) or always see her trying?

I am working on another Tola book right now. But in my books I don’t rush towards a happy ending. Life is not like that - it is more about the journey.

I loved the similar comparison openings in the last two stories....eg 'some people....but that was not Tola' - will this become a 'thing' like 'once upon a time'? Is this a traditional way of starting stories?

Thank you! It’s not something traditional but definitely something I may use again.

I think kindness is SO important, and start a hashtag every Thursday on Twitter to tray and spread it...#kindnessripple. Which of Tola's qualities do you think is important, and why?

I rate kindness too - and kindness often takes courage - and that I think is Tola most important quality - without courage she is not going to make it.

I loved the morals and honesty of Tola...do you think this is often missing in children's stories nowadays - was it an important thing that the stories had a 'message’?

I don’t set out to put morals and messages in my stories - it just works out that way. Maybe it comes from so many years telling traditional oral African stories.

I loved 'Mighty Mama' and had my own 'fierce' Irish granny - did you base her on real life relatives? Any stories about an encounter?

She is based on my own Grandmother who kept our family together with her fierce strict love.

Was it important to represent an authentic family/life for Tola? There are many stereotypes in fiction of life in Africa (and the same old, same old tropes rolled out) so were you wary of this when you wrote it?

I strive for authenticity as much as possible - but some things don’t translate. So there is always compromise, things left out, things unsaid. And I’m wary of how that might lead to stereotypes or generalisations.

Can you please write a book about 'mama mighty' so we can see where she gets her fearsome reputation from? I'd love to know her story!

It would have to be an adult book - the trials and tribulations that lead one to be mighty are often not suitable for children’s books!

Onyinye

(Question) I think kindness is SO important, and start a hashtag every Thursday on Twitter to tray and spread it (#kindnessripple). Which of Tola's qualities do you think is most important, and why?

(Answer) Tola’s resilience is impeccable, she can go through tough situations and still come out triumphant and with a smile at the end. I admire that, it’s important for most children and adults to develop resilience in the face of adversity! Good on her!

I loved 'Mighty Mama' and had my own 'fierce' Irish granny - did you base her on real life relatives? Any stories about an encounter?

Tola’s Grandmummy’s illustration was inspired by a mix of all the older Nigerian women I know! These women are strong, bold and direct, but often show a very soft, loving side which makes you want to cover them in hugs! I based her wrapper skirt of a very well-known Ankara pattern called “The Well” and gave a huge necklace as I remember always questioning the weight of the jewellery that many of my aunties were wearing at parties.

Was it important to represent an authentic family/life for Tola? There are many stereotypes in fiction of life in Africa (and the same old, same old tropes rolled out) so were you wary of this when you wrote it?

I love working on Tola and representing her and her authentic Nigerian family with my illustrations. African families differ and are multifaceted, sadly I believe there are a lot of negative stereotypes out there and confusion around life in Africa. Tola shows the reality of many Nigerian and African children from other countries, who may not have a lot of money but still lead a happy life.

I loved Tola's attitude and resilience.... who is your favourite 'underdog' in fiction?

I would say the Baudelaire kids from a series of unfortunate events written by Lemony Snickett. Their life is so full of peril and it seems to get worse almost every book, but they always manage to find ingenious ways to overcome their challenges!




Thanks to Walker Books for asking me to be part of the blog tour for this book and for the copy in advance to review. Find out more at walker.co.uk or Twitter: @WalkerBooksUK

Book your place at a virtual event for schools taking place on the 8th February with Atinuke and Onyinye at www.sla.org.uk/ticket/a-virtual-event-with-award-winning-duo-atinuke-and-onyinye-iwu/10068


Find out more about author Atinuke at atinuke-author.weebly.com/ , and about illustrator Onyinye Iwu at www.onyinyeiwu.com (Twitter: @onichum )


Review by Rich Simpson (Twitter and Instagram: @richreadalot ) January 2021




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