2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 6 books toward her goal of 240 books.
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Author Interview and Book Review – Dr. Tamara Pizzoli on Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO

tttfc Oh. My. Goodness. Did I love this children’s book… I’m well-known among those who know me for liking the more, let’s say, unusual children’s books. Sure, my daughter makes me read Goodnight Moon and the Llama Llama books, and they’re lovely – but we also go a little off the beaten path more often than not. (Felicity Floo is a household favorite, as are the deliciously off-beat Hat books by Jon Klassen and the life-altering realizations of Arnie the Doughnut, to name a few…

This latest find isn’t exactly quirky, so much as it’s stylish.

That’s a word you don’t hear applied to children’s books all that often – although it really should be, since many children’s books have glorious artwork that is vastly underrated as well as clever, sophisticated-yet-straightforward language that brings startling clarity to the complexities of childhood and growing up… This is one of THOSE books. An exceedingly original, smart tale that shines a light on social issues while simultaneously entertaining – and it is packaged beautifully with gloriously sharp illustrations. It’s a real treat.

As is the author, Dr. Tamara Pizzoli. Dr. Pizzoli was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing and her life, and I dare you to read her words and NOT immediately want to check out her book… It reads exactly as she speaks – the sophisticated simplicity I described above is on full display in both the interview and the story. Enjoy!

What inspired you? The construct of a Tooth Fairy CEO – teeth as Big Business! – is so original. What made you look to the tooth fairy as the particular focus for your story/message?
The truth is, I very rarely go looking for the stories I write. They find me, and they’re already written. My job is to transcribe them as they come to me when they arrive knocking on my imagination’s door asking for permission to come through me into reality. Now of course the ideas come through experiences, or what we know as inspiration. My eldest son Noah inspired Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO as well as my first book, The Ghanaian Goldilocks. Earlier this year, in February, he lost one of his front two teeth, so this is one of the important ones–a high dollar tooth, if you will. I was in my second trimester with my third son and very emotional. I told Noah that all he needed to do was hold on to the tooth until bedtime and make sure it got under his pillow. Well of course he lost it. And I was hormonal and distraught. “Now what are you going to do?!” I demanded. Noah is a rational, calm being. He was born that way. He simply quipped, “I’m just gonna leave her a note and explain what happened.” I thought his reaction was so cool and genius–because I don’t know, with my personality at his age, that I would have reasoned the same way. In fact, I can guarantee that at age 6, I would have been concerned about not having a tooth to place under the pillow. My kid, on the other hand, was sure that it was no big deal and had pegged the tooth fairy to be not only generous, but reasonable as well. The ideas started coming while I was cooking dinner, and I stepped away from my boiling pots to scratch them down on post-its as they came. I could not wait to get Noah and his brother Milo to bed that evening. Once I did I began writing furiously, and by midnight Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO was finished.

Balance is clearly vital to Tallulah’s success – can you comment on how you feel the concept of balance plays out in our modern world, particularly with regard to children’s lives and schedules?
Oh this is such a great and relevant question. I feel like if I don’t stay aware, my best attempts at being a great mom will have my eldest two children over-extended and over-stimulated. There are just so many options nowadays. Last year Noah was in judo, karate, swimming–I needed a planner just to keep up with his plans. Not to mention he and his brother Milo attend Italian schools so I’ve made it my lot in life to also homeschool in English in the afternoons. This year I’ve cut out all after school activities besides homeschool–it was just too much to keep up with and kids need the ability to…well, they need the ability to do nothing. They need the chance to be bored, and quiet…and to themselves. Noah adores his alone time, and I had him scheduled like a baby CEO or something. That’s not right. So yes, while writing Tallulah it was important to me to convey a woman who is a CEO with a schedule, but who also takes much needed time for herself to do what she enjoys. Too often we equate being overworked with success. Living in Italy has taught me the opposite…the good life is the life you enjoy, whatever that may look like. The good life is the life well lived and time well spent.

I LOVE the snarky response to the drawing of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Tooth Fairy on Ballard’s note. It is, unfortunately, all too prevalent to see portrayals of “heroes” or “magical” beings as Caucasians – representations that are not reflective of the majority of children to whom they are presented… I assume this recognition was, in large measure, a guiding principle behind your decision to write the book. What are your thoughts on how to address this in modern representations (stories, television, advertising)?
I make what I desire to see. All of the characters in my books thus far are representations of what I want to see now, and would have wanted to see as a child. The physical inspiration for Tallulah’s character came from two life muses of mine. The first is the fashion icon Iris Apfel. This woman is 95 years old and a peacock of a human. I adore her. The other is a dear friend and mentor of mine, Dominican-Italian actress and producer Iris Apfel. She’s just so stunning and kind and hilarious–when I thought of who the tooth fairy might look like, only she came to mind, truly. It just so happens that she’s a Black Dominican-Italian. But if she’d been anything else I still think I would have used her as a reference.

As far as how to address the lack of diverse representation in all forms of media, from books to television, I think visual arts are the way to go. People pay attention to beautiful things. People pay attention to art. I believe all of my books so far display high art, and so the messages behind them land just that much harder. A polished, pristine image moves the discussion from, “Wait, I thought the tooth fairy was a tiny blonde fairy,” to “Well of course the tooth fairy has an afro.” I also believe that most people have had an idea for a book that should be written…and if you have that idea, it’s waiting for you to act on it. It’s good enough to be written. The answer to the lack of books in existence that accurately represent the glorious range of people and their unique experiences and stories is for more books to be written, more shows to be produced, more art to be made…the answer is more.

On a similar note, the Teeth Titans Board of Directors is pointedly (and obviously itentionally) short on diversity. I enjoy the message about the importance of balance in this context also – can you please comment on additional ways that you think we might promote meaningful diversity both in business and in our children’s lives?
The Board of Directors is actually reflective of my Board of Directors in real life. Tom the tooth fairy is based on my mentor, whose real name is Tom. He is the co-owner of a large production studio in Texas and in five minutes can give you gems that will change your life. So many times, as a sixteen year old freshman year student at Southern Methodist University, I was visually and ethnically the “Tom” in the room. As a young African-American educator pursuing a Masters and Doctorate degree, I was the “Tom” in the room. It was fun to flip that experience on its head…and if you’ll notice, Tallulah postpones addressing his request. I reconcile a lot through my books. It’s all art therapy. As far as real world implications, I believe in the power of authentic experiences. The more you live, the more you know. M is for Marrakech, my alphabet book highlighting cities around the world, gives readers a chance to pop into these incredible cities that they may or may not ever step foot in, but at least they’ll know they exist and where they are located on the map. We’re so spoiled nowadays. We have the luxury of the internet. You can find out so much online–you can even make real friendships. I have sound so many supportive individuals on social media–people who look like me and who don’t, who share the same language and who don’t…the magic is where we allow others to become our teaches and offer our expertise to teach others as well…all within an authentic context.

You show Tallulah and Mrs. Clause drinking in a bar; why did you decide to include that in what is, otherwise, a very carefully crafted affirmative and aspirational children’s story… Is this an acknowledgement of more relaxed attitudes toward alcohol in Europe? [NB: the author lives in Italy.] Is it indicative of a desire to destigmatize adults drinking in the hope that this will have a concomitant effect on children’s interest in doing so? Or is it merely an addition of levity? (I laughed out loud at the imagery, and love the idea of Mrs. C and the Big T hanging out, although it did surprise me.) Everything in the book seems to have been very carefully and intentionally crafted; I’m just curious as to your purpose in including this…
Tallulah does a lot of what I do in real life. She doesn’t go for drinks in the story…she goes for lunch. Mrs. Claus has a second Irish coffee. Tallulah could be drinking a fancy orange juice. I suppose being in Italy has desensitized me to alcohol consumption, which I do feel is much more demonized in the states. I simply don’t police my imagination. As the author and the publisher, I’m grateful to be in a position to create a book with a page like that and not give it a second thought. I mean, here in Rome this morning I went to the market and at 10:35 a.m. the man next to me was enjoying every sip of his white wine while I had a coffee and a muffin. In the mornings walking to school my children and I might stop by the “bar” (which is what they call the coffee shop here) to have an orange juice. It’s just reflective of my world.

Thank you so much to Dr. Pizzoli and her delightful assistant and friend Frenchaire (who originally reached out to me) for sharing their marvelous story – and their time! I assure you that the book is worth yours…

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