Penny is an 8-year-old girl with a challenge. Two of her school friends make a decision for all of them to wear their hair “down” the next day. But unlike her straight-haired friends, Penny has tightly curled, kinky hair — she is one of just a few African-American children in her school. Until this moment, Penny has not been faced with the ideas that she is different or that she should try to fit in.
When Penny comes home that day and asks her mother if she can alter her hair, her mother sees it as a learning opportunity. Instead of straightening her hair, Penny’s mother tells her a story that has been passed down through generations and puts Penny's hair in puffballs instead. Her mother's story shares the power and beauty in Penny's "puffballs" and reassures her they are special. “When you wear your puffballs, amazing things will happen,” she says to Penny.
Seattle-based author Alonda Williams crafted this tale of hair, bravery and self-acceptance based on her own experiences with her daughter Paris. Published in 2013, Penny and the Magic Puffballs is the first installment in a book series created by Williams, who works as a a general management professional by day. Williams has an MBA from Rutgers University and has done advanced work at Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and UCLA's Anderson School of Management. But by night, she is an up-and-coming author.
A self-described “strategist, marketer and storyteller,” Williams founded her own publishing company, Glori Publications, to publish the story. The second book in the series, Penny and the Magic Puffballs: Roxie's First Day, continues to focus on a young girl who learns life lessons while embracing her uniqueness, and was published in December 2016. Both works were illustrated by Tyrus Goshay.
Penny and puffballs also have a social media presence. Girls are encourage to submit photos of their own magic puffballs on the book's Facebook page; and every book has a puffball gallery.
Williams shared the past and present of the book series in a recent interview.
Have you always had aspirations to write a children’s book?
Actually, I had no prior aspiration to write a book. The Penny series was actually created out of a bedtime story for my children. Storytelling is a common practice in my family and I would use the story of Penny as a way to convince my children to go to sleep at night, often ending a bedtime story with something similar to tune in next time to find out what Penny did next.
How long did you have the idea of Penny before putting her on paper and sharing her with the world?
I developed the story of Penny around the time my daughter was 7 years old. While I had been telling the story to my children for years, it was a few years before I wrote them down on paper.
What is the age of Penny and her friends? What is the target age group of the book?
Penny and her friends are in the second grade. The book is geared towards younger children but the lessons are formatted in a way that all ages can enjoy the story.
What motivated you to keep going when you wanted to quit?
The passing of my mother. I heard her voice speak to me while planting a flower in her honor. She told me to write Penny’s story.
Was your daughter excited when she saw the published version of your book?
She was very happy and felt special. She was proud that she motivated a story that many girls could identify with.
In the book, Penny’s friends, Grace and Simone, asked before touching Penny’s hair. Was it your goal to encourage appropriate boundaries for girls?
Yes. I believe it is important to help ALL girls understand you should be asked before being touched. It is also important to teach girls they can say no to those who ask to touch their hair.
The message that is present through the entire Penny series is that it is OK to be different. Penny was created out of appreciation for uniqueness.
How did you come up with such an amazing balance of messages that are pro-self without being anti-others?
The message that is present through the entire Penny series is that it is OK to be different. Penny was created out of appreciation for uniqueness. I believe it is important to be who you are and be confident in your skin.
Tell us about the last page of a book that has all the beautiful girls rockin’ their puff balls?
Every book has a puffball gallery. The gallery is created through images of my daughter and Facebook user submissions. I believe it is important to see images of real girls. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
Where can people who want to show off their puffball power send submissions?
Submit through the Facebook page.
Where can we expect to see Penny next?
I am working on getting Penny in other mediums — like Penny merchandise and chapter books!
What tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
Do your research and make sure your story is unique. I had an incident that someone created a story that was way too similar to mine after I had it copyrighted. It is important to develop your story and perfect it. Everything else is easy. Take your vision and test it on kids. Then you will know if your story will have the potential to be a hit.
What tool helped you most in the process of self-publication?
Guru.com and finding experts on open marketplace.
Just go for it! The most important part is getting started. There are so many resources to help you accomplish your goals. And you can do anything you put your mind to. Don't be afraid to share your inspiration with other people.
How to connect with Penny's story
For more books that celebrate self-acceptance, check out the following titles:
We're Not So Different After All, by Lissette Lent
It's Okay To Be Different, by Todd Parr