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Diverse Tales: A Tapestry of Stories for Every Child

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In the world of children’s literature and illustration, Mala’ika Mustapha shines as a creative force, spinning tales that transcend cultural boundaries and celebrate the beauty of diverse experiences. Influenced by her Nigerian, Ghanaian, Filipino, and Canadian roots, Mustapha is on a mission to share stories of family, friendship, and adventure that resonate with readers from all walks of life.

As both a storyteller and an artist, Mustapha’s commitment to positive representation and diversity is evident in every digital brushstroke. Her stories go beyond imaginative narratives and embody her desire to infuse literature with characters reflecting the richness of cultural diversity. Mustapha aims to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, finds relatable characters within her stories.

“I just wanted to create stories and illustrations that would have a positive impact, inspire children, and be enjoyable and relatable,” Mustapha shares. She recognizes that stories for black or other children of colour often carry societal burdens, and she is determined to provide alternatives, stories that are not only enjoyable but also relatable.

Mustapha’s mission centers on positive representation through diversity. While acknowledging the increasing diversity in various media, she emphasizes the need to move beyond narratives solely focused on challenges and hardships. Her books have a powerful message of self-love. However, Mala’ika stresses the importance of a broader range of narratives that transcend struggles faced by people of colour.

Drawing from personal experiences, Mustapha shares a poignant story about her younger sister, Samara, who faced ridicule at school for embracing her natural afro hairstyle. This incident underscores the ongoing challenges and the importance of promoting positive representation and cultural understanding. 

Culturally, Mustapha notices differences in upbringing between her diverse background and Canadian norms. Raised in a family-rich environment, she underscores the value of communal living. In Canada, the prevailing lifestyle often prioritizes individual pursuits, potentially diluting the communal spirit. Despite this, Mustapha remains optimistic that cultural values of unity and community will endure.

Mustapha not only crafts these engaging stories but also brings them to life through her illustrations. As a digital artist, she faces unique challenges in procuring suitable tools for diverse hair types and styles. Sharing her journey, she explains that many standard apps lack features for textured hair, prompting her to forge her own solutions. Mustapha’s dedication to authenticity is evident in her attention to detail, ensuring her characters’ appearances authentically mirror the diversity she aims to portray.

For Mustapha, success isn’t solely measured by sales or accolades but heartfelt messages from parents and children alike. She recently received a message from a mother expressing gratitude for the representation of a character named Jamila, reflecting her family’s diverse heritage.

Mustapha’s storytelling and artistic prowess enrich the world of children’s literature and contribute to a broader cultural shift towards inclusivity, understanding, and appreciation for diversity. As she continues her journey of imagination, inclusivity, and adventure, Mala’ika remains a guiding light for future generations, inspiring children to find beauty in their narratives and those of others. 

– Yuliia Kovalenko, U Multicultural

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