BRONZEVILLE — Growing up, Tiffany Smith was obsessed with Paris. She dreamed of picturesque days spent strolling the Champs-Élysées, of enjoying a decadent crepe in the comfort of an artfully decorated patisserie.
With Smith coming from modest means, it remained a dream until last year, when she booked her first trip to the City of Lights.
Then coronavirus interrupted her plans, turning what had almost been real into a dream once more.
So the South Side native took to her computer, bringing to life an idea that had been brewing inside her before the pandemic. Just like that, “Msomaji’s Magic Carpet,” her first children’s book, was born.
“When I launched my food and travel blog in 2017, I knew there was a purpose much bigger than me going on vacation and talking about all the cool places I’d visited. Quite honestly, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a children’s book,'” said Smith, a journalist. “The more I began to write, the more this became a sort of inspirational and educational manual to encourage kids who had never seen the world to have dreams.”
Msomaji — a Swahili name that translates to “seeker” — dreams of seeing the world, but her family doesn’t have the means. Enter one magic carpet, ready to take the budding young traveler wherever she wants to go.
That Msomaji is a beautiful Brown girl with mahogany skin is intentional; the number of children’s books featuring Black and Brown characters is something the author noticed, and the publishing industry continues to struggle with representation.
“As I was getting deeper into writing the book, I saw there weren’t very many chocolate girls on the covers of children’s books, or at least not as many as there should be. Of course you have some, like Matthew Cherry’s ‘Hair Love,” but it’s disproportionate,” said Smith, a Kenwood Academy alumna who lives in Bronzeville. “People ask why the character doesn’t look like me. And while the book is about me, I wanted girls to see themselves on the cover, be captured by it and reminded that they are beautiful and they deserve to be on the cover.”
The book, released in late March, is already a hit with younger readers. Smith has spent the past month sharing Msomaji’s story with students all over the city and holding weekly discussions with local nonprofits. Burst Into Books will host the author for its Virtual Story Hour Time 6 p.m. Friday, which will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook.
And there is a good chance Msomaji will be going on other adventures, as fans are clamoring for more stories, Smith said.
“What your reality looks like right now doesn’t mean that is what is always going to be. You may not have the means to travel right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to reach your goal,” she said. “I wrote this book to make kids believe — especially kids from the hood — that anything is possible.”
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