Yvonne Senkandwa, a Los Angeles based writer of Ugandan descent, is no stranger to charting new territory. After a frustrating search for children’s books about African royalty, she decided to write one of her own. Shortly after completing the second book in the series, she branched into merchandizing; launching a series of dolls based on the characters in her books. In my conversations with Senkandwa about her work, I couldn’t help but be inspired by her enthusiasm and go-getter attitude.
Q: You have a couple of children’s books under your belt. What are they about?
A: The books are to teach children the principles of integrity, kindness and love. I want to allow children to see themselves in positive royal imagery. The first book, Nkinzi and Namikka Have a Tea Party tells the story of the twin Princesses spending time with their grandmother. They learn about Kiganda culture as well as the value of healthy eating and exercise. The second book, Nkinzi and Namikka an Afternoon at the Farmer’s Market is about the twin Princesses encountering bullying at the farmers market. They learn how to resolve that issue by helping one another. Right now our children need strong leadership and using royalty was the best way to convey that.
Q: In some African cultures, twins are looked at with a certain level of apprehension. How are they perceived in Ugandan culture?
A: In Uganda twins are very much adored. It is considered prestigious to welcome twins in the Buganda Kingdom. With the birth of twins, parents are given a special title, which is held by both my parents. My father being Salongo and my mother being Nalongo give them respect in Kiganda culture. The twins get names that are gender specific. All the children in the family, depending on the order of birth, receive a special name too. Being third-born and a girl after twins, my name is Nakamya. If I were a boy, I would have been named Kamya. Twins bring pride and honor to a family.
Q: What sparked your interest in creating content for children?
A: I wanted to open up the conversation about Africa to our children. We see a lot of images of Africa out there, but how do we get our children talking about Africa? The interest in creating the content began in 2006 with the desire to buy a book for my niece. I was very specific about what I wanted to buy which were African Princess books but I had a hard time finding books that teach culture and royalty. I searched all over Los Angeles and I couldn’t find anything. In 2010 I began writing my children’s books and in 2014 I self-published. My family is also an inspiration for the books. My mother gave birth to twins and I grew up in a home where there was a lot of positive imagery about royalty. I am also inspired by the Buganda Kingdom which has more than 800 years of documented history. The royalty in Uganda is very strong and inspires people every day. Our Queen Sylvia Nagginda, who has endorsed both books, has been doing a lot of work representing Buganda and letting people know that Buganda royalty still stands today. The Princess book series, I believe, is a perfect way to get our children to sit down and learn about Africa’s royalty and culture.
Q: I notice that one of your dolls is not African. What’s her story?
A: The twin Princesses Nkinzi and Namikka meet Princess Lily at the farmers market. My idea behind the inclusion of Princess Lily is that our children whether at school, day care or up and about, are exposed to various people and different cultures. In Uganda there is diversity in the schools and it’s normal to see children of various backgrounds learning and playing together. It was important for me to include Princess Lily because diversity in children’s literature and inclusion of various cultures are key topics that are diligently being addressed in libraries and schools around the world. Children will have a deeper respect for themselves once they know their own culture and learn about other children’s cultures. Princess Lily’s presence is my way of saying that there isn’t only one race or culture to which our children are exposed.
Q: Walk us through the process of designing the dolls and getting them made. How did you figure it all out?
A: I began by researching the market and identifying a need. The need allowed me to author the book series which lead to bringing the characters to life by creating the dolls. The creative process began with conversations that lead to sketches that were turned into prototypes. I worked with various vendors during that entire process who helped bring my vision to what you see now. I figured it out through patience and years of researching which included asking a lot of questions.
Q: You started by writing books then moved on to designing dolls. Do you have another iteration for this project in mind? An animated series for instance?
A: I started with the twin Princesses but series then expanded with their brother Prince Wassajja and friend Princess Lily. My vision for the book series is to continue writing. I find joy in little girls and boys learning about royalty and culture through the books. There are so many Royal families around the world so the storylines for the books are endless. I would also like to animate the series with a major network when that opportunity becomes available. Most importantly, I’d value the opportunity to continue to work with Queen Syliva’s Foundation in promoting literacy and a reading culture in Uganda, as well as the Pasadena Unified School District in introducing culture and royalty to children.
Q: Where can people purchase your books and dolls?
A: I am self-published author so the books and dolls are not yet available in physical stores but I am diligently working on that. The dolls are available on a pre-order basis. As for now we ask that you LIKE us on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/nkinziandnamikka to keep up with the adventures of Princesses Nkinzi and Namikka.
Author: Constance Ejuma is an award-winning actress and producer. She’s also a current member of The3As board and spearheaded the launch of this site’s blog. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.