Celebrity PR boss and journalist Abesi Manyando is using her way with words to help educate the youth about the importance of knowing their history, along with other important life lessons, in her adorable and educational children’s book “Jarvais Po (The Secret Adventures of a Potato).”
Manyando’s company, Abesi PR & Marketing, has worked with recognizable names, including Lil Baby and Future, and written for websites such as Huffington Post, Medium and Shadow and Act. Now the entrepreneur is expanding her empire into larger territories with the release of the first children’s book from her upcoming “The Garden Bunch” series. During a conversation with Atlanta Black Star, Manyando opened up about what inspired her to write the book and the importance of discussing social issues with children.
Manyando said she was bitten by the writing bug around third or fourth grade. She started out writing poetry before taking up longer forms and knew that she’d end up working in a creative field, although she wasn’t sure exactly which one right away.
“I think as far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, probably from the time I was, I would say, maybe in third or fourth grade. I think that’s when I started writing poetry, and it was such a different space for me,” she said. “Then I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve always been an artistic person, so I knew that at a certain point, that that’s really what I wanted to do. And in my life path, I ended up going to college for business management and marketing.”
Manyando’s love of writing didn’t overshadow the uncertainty that comes with a writing career, so instead of questioning whether she could reach her goal, she got strategic about how to do it. “After I graduated, I did a few different internships. But I always wanted something that would have allowed me to utilize my creativity, but there was always the thing of being a writer…either you make it big, or you’re going to be a struggling writer for a long time. So that’s how I ended up getting into PR and just really launching a company from nothing literally, literally from nothing, no funding, no nothing and being an entrepreneur. I thought it was going to give me the freedom to do the other creative things that I wanted do.”
Her first book in her “The Garden Bunch” series was released Feb. 18, but has been in the works for seven years. Manyando hopes that the release of “Jarvais Po (The Secret Adventures of a Potato)” will teach kids about the beauty and power that comes with knowing and loving themselves. In the book, the titular character struggles with self-esteem issues caused by a lack of knowledge about himself and his potato heritage. He’s bullied by classmates and has “forgotten his worth,” however, a history lesson and field trip end up changing everything for him.
“ ‘Jarvais Po’ is for every child, every adult & every educator. It’s about finding your own light in a world that may try to make you feel unworthy,” she said of the book’s purpose. “It’s about shining despite hatred, bullying and invisibility. You cannot dim your light because others are blind to your excellence. You must find the power within to embrace yourself and succeed.”
The idea for the book came to her after an unfortunate experience she had while working as a volunteer at an academy after school, when she met a little boy who, much like Jarvais, hated everything about himself. “I started writing the book seven years ago…There was this little kid years ago, that hated who he was, when he hated being who he was and everything,” she recalled. “That just stuck with me because I felt that everything that he thought he was wasn’t even necessarily true. I didn’t think that he had even been exposed to his history and had the opportunity to really learn who he was.”
The incident made her realize just how early seeds of self-hatred can begin to take root, and she began to wonder what she could do to combat the issue. “At a young age, these kids form opinions based on the school system, and based on their surroundings and environment. And just the way that he was so strong about his self-hatred, it stuck with me. I just thought, ‘How many kids are like that, and how many kids are going into this world in that mindset?’ ”
Having a fictional world populated by fruits and vegetables instead of people was an intentional choice of Manyando’s as well. Along with teaching morality lessons, Manyando also hopes to make healthy eating more enticing to notoriously picky eaters. She collaborated with illustrator Fuuji Takashi to bring her story to life through vibrant imagery. “I met Fuuji through a referral online, and I went to her Instagram. And I’m an artist myself, so I’m very picky and I draw,” revealed the author. “I knew exactly how I wanted my characters to look, like even the broccoli. I had in mind exactly how I wanted their hair, how I wanted the moms to look, the dads. I really needed a collaborator who could take my own drawings and then my own creativity and art in a way that it conveyed what I exactly wanted to see. And she was just that person for me.”
Other important themes Manyando hopes come across in her books include: the importance of education beyond what’s taught in schools and being able to identify what she refers to as ‘miseducation.’ “Jarvais was also a victim of miseducation. Even in school, he wasn’t really taught about who he was…to me that was just like so many of us, who are invisible in the history books, and so much history that is not told, about so many different cultures and ethnic groups. So, it’s like, ‘Did it happen? Or is it all just American history as told by this singular narrative?’ So, miseducation is a big aspect of the book, too, and just history and just education.”
She continued, “I wanted the kids to understand that. Like, ‘You have to diversify yourself outside of school sometimes.’ And the parents and educators, more than anything like … It’s not an excuse to say, ‘Well, we don’t know about African history and these kingdoms, and that medicine started in Africa, and these things here because it’s not in our history books…Do your own research…An entire culture, an entire race can live under miseducation and think that they’re not good enough because they’ve been miseducated.”
Manyando hopes to see a continuing growth of children’s books that touch on deeper issues like bullying, race and self-value. “I see a lot of anti-racism kids’ books and all these things. I think that people need to not make it something that’s ‘trendy’ to be doing, just to be doing. There has to be some education and some realism, and teaching moments there,” she stated.
Jarvais Po and the rest of The Garden Bunch will be doing their part to contribute to creating teachable moments. Manyando has completed the series’ second book already, which will address gentrification, and is busy working on book three. “I’ve already done book two and I already know what book three is. Book two actually starts off at the end of ‘Jarvais Po (The Secret Adventures of a Potato).’ It’s ‘Brea Broccoli and the Road to Broccoli City,’ and it really touches on gentrification.”
“Jarvais Po (The Secret Adventures of a Potato)” is available for purchase on Amazon.com.