After looking for a book that included some cultural representation for her young daughter, Crystal Boateng realized there weren’t many available – so she took matters into her own hands.
Boateng’s debut book “Afia the Ashanti Princess: A Visit to the Motherland,” tells the tale about a young girl who dreams of being a princess and who travels to Ghana where she learns about her royal ancestry.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Boateng to learn more about the book and how she celebrates her Ghanaian heritage.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: After looking for a book that included some cultural representation for her young daughter, Crystal Boateng realized there weren’t many available, so she took matters into her own hands.
Her debut book entitled “Afia the Ashanti Princess” A Visit to the Motherland,” tells the story of a young girl who dreams of being a princess and after traveling to Ghana, learns about her royal ancestry.
I spoke with Boateng to learn more about the book and how she celebrates her Ghanaian heritage.
Crystal Boateng, Author: I actually wrote this book two years ago during the pandemic. I think there are so many of us who did a lot of great things during that time of the pandemic. And that was the time when I actually got the inspiration to write this book.
At that time, I had two kids, my daughter, Whitney Afia and my son, Leo. Whitney at that time was learning how to read and she was very into princesses, so I wanted to find a book about an African princess just so she could really connect with the character, and I couldn’t really find anything. So, I decided to write my own!
And I figured, why not write a story that’s about her? So, I decided to write this book about a little girl who wants to be a princess, doesn’t know any princesses who look like her, and then she gets this opportunity to visit her grandmother, who lives in Ghana. And through that, she learned that she’s actually part of a royal family and that she indeed is a princess.
Okyeame Kwame turned to Afia and Kofi and said, “We have been awaiting your arrival. Your grandmother mentioned that she was going to bring you here.”
He then bowed to Nana and said, “Nana, me ma wo akwaaba,” which translates to “your Highness, you are welcomed.”
Zydalis Bauer: You also are writing these books to encourage other children to explore their family history or cultural identity. And I think what we’ve seen in recent years, is how important it is for a child to see themselves and see the representation in books and in shows and just in media.
What impact does that have on them when they’re able to see somebody that looks just like them and in these types of books?
Crystal Boateng: When I wrote the book, like I said, I wrote it for my children and then I found out that there are all these other people out there who were actually very interested in it.
And sometimes it’s through random reviews that I read on — on Amazon about, you know, I had one I’ll give you an example. It was this lady, she’s from Kenya, which is also in Africa, right? And so, she got the book for her daughter, who was about the same age as my daughter. Her daughter really loved it, connected with it.
So exactly to your point, it’s just everyone who reads this, right — and it’s not even just for children, too right, it’s for the adults, the parents who are reading it or the grandparents that are reading it to the children, just to teach the children about their family history. So, I wrote it also from a parent’s perspective too, that, you know, like telling your children where you’re from just so they can become interested to learn more about it.
Zydalis Bauer: So, speaking about educating and cultural heritage and identity, can you tell us what is an Ashanti prince or princess?
Crystal Boateng: Ghana has several tribes. There are several tribes here in Ghana. So, my family is from the Ashanti region. And so, the people from the Ashanti region are known as the Ashantis.
So, in my book, I talk about Afia and her brother Kofi. They go to the Manhyia Palace. That’s actually where the king — and there’s a real-life king who lives there. And so, you know, anyone who belongs to the royal family, you know, is referred to as an Ashanti prince or princess. But, you know, all people from the Ashanti region are known as Ashantis.
And so, in the book, that’s what Afia finds out that her family is connected to the royal family, and so she is indeed an Ashanti princess.
Zydalis Bauer: So, you were born in Ghana and then moved to Massachusetts as a child, and you’re currently in Ghana right now so I know you have maintained that cultural connection with your motherland.
How did it feel to see this come to life in your book, and how were you able to pick what elements of your heritage that you wanted to include?
Crystal Boateng: You know, I always like to add this part, like, disclaimer that I am not really part of the Ashanti Royal family. But what I did find out after I wrote this, was that I went to go visit my grandmother, who was my daughter’s great grandmother.
And when I told her about the book, she said, “Oh, well, did you know?” So, my grandmother’s father, who was my great grandfather, actually went to the Yaa Asantewaa War, which I referenced a little bit in the book, and so even though in the book I say it’s like a grandmother, in reality, my grandfather, my great-great grandfather was part of this historical war. He was actually a chief in a small town.
So, you know, you’re asking like, how did I pick? Like, what elements of my history or heritage to — to talk about a lot of times is just, like, conversations with my mom. And then when I went to visit my grandmother, she really, like, validated a lot of things for me. So, it’s like, “Wow, it’s great!” A lot of these things, you know, I kind of made up as I was going along. But it turns out that, you know, I’m actually part of a royal family, too, so!
Zydalis Bauer: It’s so funny, you know, you’re writing these books for children to find out about their family history. And here you are as an adult, like, coincidentally just stumbling upon your own.
That’s such, like — that’s literally what the book is about!
Crystal Boateng: Absolutely! Absolutely.
Zydalis Bauer: And so, you also recently started your own publishing company called Ashanti Royalty Publishing, and you really are looking to help other people become published authors.
Why was this really important for you to start this new endeavor?
Crystal Boateng: So, there are two companies, so Ashanti Royal — Royalty Publishing, that’s more of like my private one, that I publish my own books. And then the one that I publish other people’s book is called Boat and Co, like my last name Boateng, Boat and Co Publishing. And yeah, so when I put out this book, I started getting a lot of emails or just like, you know, private messages on Facebook or Instagram saying, “Oh, like, how did you do this? I’ve always wanted to write a book.”
And so, that’s really what inspired me. And, like, every time when I go to like vendor fairs or stuff like that, people always ask, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book. How do I do this?” So, I decided, why not right? Why don’t I turn this passion of mine into actually helping other people?
Because there are so many little things that are involved in writing a book, right? It’s not just writing the story and then, like, it magically appears on Amazon.
Zydalis Bauer: You wish, right?
Crystal Boateng: Exactly! So, there are so many — like working with an illustrator, which is something I wanted to talk about, right? Like children’s books, like, it’s so important to have very colorful illustrations because that’s how children connect with books.
So, I was very fortunate to have my illustrator Gaby, who really connected with me, was able to bring the story to life.
Crystal Boateng: So, these are all little things that I want to help other authors with, right? Like finding the right illustrator to bring your story to life. Finding the right rhythm, or even just, like, helping someone come up with an idea, because a lot of times you might have an idea and then you start writing and you get stuck.
So, my publishing company, I do basically from start to finish, right? Like, if you have an idea, I can help you with it. Or if you’ve written your manuscript and you need an illustrator, I can help you with that, too. Or if you’ve done everything and you just want to move it to the next step, get connected with people who can put your book out there, get it into bookstores, like I have my books in bookstores, like Barnes and Noble and also small bookshops in Springfield, as well. I have my books there. I think it’s Olive Tree and Voices. It’s right now in Springfield. Yeah, I have my books there as well. And also, here in Ghana. I have my books at bookstores in Ghana.
So, there are a lot of steps that are involved, and I want to help others, you know, be able to achieve that as well.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, you’re very involved in the community over here in western Massachusetts. As you said, you have a lot of your books in local bookstores, and you also do a lot of readings with young children.
What do you hope the ideal takeaway for you, for children and other young readers and adults and families reading your books?
Crystal Boateng: Just to get people — first of all, I want people to know about Ghana, right? What is, like, where is this country? A lot of times people don’t even know where it is, right? So, I want people to know Ghana is a small country in Africa.
And also aside from knowing about Ghana, right, I want children and other readers to just learn about their family history, right? You might think that you know everything about your family, you know, family that’s around you, but there might be a little bit more that you might be very intrigued to find out. So, that’s really my — my hope that people will learn, ask questions and discover new things about their family history.