When Dr. Casandra Henriquez pops up on your screen, you notice; even through the barrier of a screen, her energy is palpable. This woman is clearly a force to be reckoned with! When I met her, she was wearing a white t-shirt with the phrase “Inspire Many,” the name of her coaching business, emblazoned across her chest, still on her feet, even bouncing a bit on her toes after ten hours of back-to-back Zoom meetings and phone calls. But she was excited to talk about the newest book in the Princess Zara book series.
When one of the LadyFaire staff came across an announcement for the new Princess Zara book, she immediately alerted me to the pending launch. “Take a look at this book. It’s a perfect fit for our readers!” And she was right.
The Princess Zara book series was inspired by Dr. Henriquez’s real-life daughter, Ava, who, when she turned three years old, wanted a princess-themed party. It seems a simple request, yes? Not so. Princess party supplies for children of color were nowhere to be found, which spurred this dynamic and devoted mother to explore the question: where are the princesses for the black and brown children? Where is the spectrum of color in the fantasy world of castles and crowns? Casandra was determined to find a princess role model for Ava; not a poor-girl-kissed-by-a-frog princess, not a broken girl in need of saving. She wanted a heroine who had been born Black and royal. Who didn’t have to suffer to earn the tiara that can be so readily offered to little white girls.
This princess was elusive.
And so this fiery, talented, intelligent mother created the book her daughter so fully deserved: Princess Zara’s Birthday Tradition, followed by Princess Zara and the Royal Festival. On the new book’s cover, the bright colors, pennants and castle, and Elizabethan-era princess dress are immediately recognizable as tropes we Renaissance festival aficionados know well, but the brown face and black curls piled atop the titular character’s head are a decidedly fresh take. I asked Dr. Henriquez to introduce me to the young girl she hopes will become as mainstream and recognizable as Cinderella or Sophia (ask your neighbor’s four-year-old if you don’t know about Sophia!) and her face lit up with enthusiasm and genuine love for this project. “Zara is talkative, inquisitive, she loves drums and dancing; she loves her parents… giving back is a value for Zara.” With her sidekick, Ziggy, a Jamaican and a singer of reggae, Zara is all about kindness, with a particular focus on the importance of role models in the recently published book. With big dreams, Dr. Henriquez is hoping that Zara might become the star of her own television series.
Illustrated by Pakistani artist Mudassir M. Abid, the series is fun, celebratory, and a vital addition to the kid’s lit canon. At the risk of editorializing, we here at LadyFaire believe that this book is not only suitable for children of color, it’s suitable for, well, children of all hues. Representation matters. It matters to the children of color who long to see themselves on the bookshelves, but it also matters that white kids see kids of color on book covers, read the books, love the books, and absorb the message: any kid can be a princess, and Kids of Color can be normative protagonists.
I asked Dr. Henriquez how the LadyFaire community could help in this mission. “Buy books. And if you don’t have kids around to read the books, buy them and donate them to schools and libraries.” And a visit to the website yields cute merch like t-shirts, wall decals, and birthday party decorations, completely apropos, since a quest for birthday party decorations launched the series! You can also follow Princess Zara on Instagram and Facebook.
Kim Bryant is a veteran performer, educator, and writer. With 25 years teaching experience, an adjunct professorship in Theatre, twenty years in the festival world, she brings a wealth of experience to LadyFaire Living. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Education from Lubbock Christian University and her Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of Houston. The 2010 winner of the prestigious Texas Educational Association Lynn Murray Scholarship, Kim has studied at Actor’s Studio of Chicago, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and at New York’s Lincoln Center. Kim has three grown children, Hilary, Travis, and Libby; two bonus grandchildren, Ally and JJ; and two grandbabies, Hazel and Ezekiel.