K is for Kahlo - a new abc book is on the way!

I think my affinity for remixing the alphabet comes from many years of teaching the abc's to Kindergarteners as an early childhood teacher. I used to love hearing my five and six-year-old students' alternative ideas to A is for Apple and B is for Ball.

I've got 3.5 kids of my own now. Noah, age 8, Milo, age 5, Zen who'll turn a year old on the 11th of July, and this new baby who's set to come in November. The Italian Kindergarten Milo attends isn't quite as academically attentive as what I'd hoped it would be, so I do a lot of supplementing at home. Now that it's summertime, we're really gonna be hitting the alphabet hard.

I really like using the abc's as a tool to introduce kids to different concepts within a familiar framework. I've done cities around the world in M is for Marrakech:

And hairstyles in M is for Mohawk (with a distinct message about diversity as well)

And dance moves around the globe in B is for Breakdancing:

Art has become an increasingly important staple in my life in recent years. 
What better way to introduce kids to notable artists from around the world than through the alphabet?

So K is absolutely for my favorite Frida--

And here's a sneak peek and the first few letters:

And in case you're wondering what genius artist is behind the illustrations--
H is for Howell Edwards Creative.

I think I'll have this beauty published by next month.

Fatou and the Kora - Our Newest Published Story

What can I say about this story?
I guess to begin I can say it's the eighth story from The English Schoolhouse, my little boutique cupcake of a love place where I publish all the books and stories that I believe should be shared. I've only been writing and publishing professionally for a little over two years now. The Ghanaian Goldilocks, my first story, came out in July of 2014.

Fatou and the Kora takes place in West Africa as well--in a place full of beauty and wonder called Dakar, Senegal. As a writer and a publisher, I feel very drawn to stories that accurately represent the Diaspora. I like to honor the ancestors before and within me who surely had thousands of beautiful stories to share, but were not given the opportunity to do so in written form...or whom chose not to because many of the traditional West African stories and tales are shared orally.

In this story, the main character, Fatou, is a griot--or a generational oral storyteller. It's her gift...a fact that proves to be a bit problematic, as girls in her region of the country are not permitted to play the kora.

In my real life, the kora (or the African harp) is a staple in my existence. I adore it.
I first heard the kora played on the streets of Rome by a griot named Madya Diebate. 

By stopping and listening to him, and beginning a conversation, I found a very good lifelong friend named Silvia Balossi Restelli, who has traveled to Senegal with Madya as his student and is also very gifted with the instrument.

Silvia in my bedroom in Rome about to tune the kora
 a few days after I gave birth

Two years later both Madya and Silvia are staples in my life and my heart and our home. 
Madya comes to play the kora for my audiobooks, or when I have the blues, or when I have an idea knocking on my imagination's door that needs a little extra nudge to be pulled gently into reality. Silvia drops by whenever she can to sing and chant for our new baby Zen, and tune the kora--

What gifts.

Of course the story wouldn't be what it has become without the gorgeous art of master Italian painter Elena Tommasi Ferroni...

She took the inspiration of such a gorgeous location and culture and people--

Madya's family in Senegal

And visually translated it into breathtaking accurate high art that fits the story like a glove--

Art prints are available via my online art gallery, The Nef Gallery. If you're interested in an original or a print, you can email info@theenglishschoolhouse.com.

And just because projects this beautiful always contain a bit of magic.
Here in Rome, a very lovely man by the name of Moussa, works at a store just under my home. It just so happens that the father in Fatou and the Kora is named Moussa.

Looks a bit like Madya, right?

So a few weeks ago Moussa and I were chit-chatting outside about the project and when he could stop by my house for a minute or two as he'd graciously agreed to lend his voice to the audiobook for Fatou and the Kora. 

While we were talking and trying to decide on a day, a smart car pulls up and the driver hops out and begins making small talk. People are stopping and starting to take photos. Moussa asked him for a picture and I took it--

Once the man left I turned to Moussa and asked, "Who was that?"
To which Moussa replied, "I can't believe I got a photo of him!"

So all that must mean that the universe loves this book, right?
I hope you do too.
I certainly do.

Enjoy the audiobook for Fatou and the Kora here--

And of course you can purchase your copy of the book via The English Schoolhouse's website--

If you enjoy the work, it'd be lovely for you to share it.
Thank you.

All the whimsy and wonder and beauty and grace

Tallulah The Tooth Fairy CEO is here!

Here's Book #7 from The English Schoolhouse, you guys!
And she's a winner, in my opinion.
When you think of the tooth fairy, a certain image may come to mind.
Depending on where you live or where you're from, she may not even be human!

Truth is, until now the tooth fairy's true identity has been a carefully kept secret.
Turns out, the tooth fairy looks like this...

Ain't nothin' tiny about her.

Tallulah's a boss--CEO of the only company that has a complete monopoly on the primary teeth market--Teeth Titans, Incorporated.

Here she is at work...

I'm so excited to share the truth of who the tooth fairy is and what it is she actually does with the world!
You're invited to pre-order your signed copy (by me, Tamara, the author) at www.theenglishschoolhouse.com. (It's also a dollar cheaper on the website than on amazon).

If you just can't wait that long, you can order a copy (or two or three or five or eighteen copies) on Amazon.com.

Reviews and shares are greatly, greatly appreciated!
Happy reading!
Love and toothpaste!

A New Story - Fatou & the Kora: A Work in Progress

So about a year ago I was staying at a friend's house in Dallas when a story woke me up outta my sleep in the middle of the night, demanding to be written. I have a thing for West African stories, fairytales in particular. This story is set in Dakar, Senegal, and features a little girl named Fatou who, against all cultural and gender roles set in place in her village, plays the kora in secret. It's quite possibly one of my favorite stories thus far, and I'm pleased beyond words that Elena Tommasi Ferroni, master Italian painter and artist for whom I curate here in Rome, has agreed to illustrate it. The title is Fatou and the Kora.

Since Elena started late last week I've been walking my nearly eight-months pregnant self to her studio almost daily to marvel at both her process and progress. I think you'll agree that her illustrations so far, capture so much of the magic and whimsy of West Africa and the spirit of a magnificent fairytale.

Check out some excerpts of the story below as well as the vignettes that Elena has begun.

Each painting is a work of art. As such, the originals as well as prints of each finished piece will be available for purchase on my art online gallery's website, The Nef Gallery.

Bakumasela...or let's begin, in Mandinka.

In the West African city of Dakar, not so long ago...
In a land once composed of kingdoms and empires
that is now known as Senegal...

It was in these routine roles that Fatou first learned the importance of paying attention,
 a skill that never escaped her. 
She listened with intensity when her mother shared her secrets.

“The way to make good food, Fatou my love,
 is the same way to have a good idea. The more you let it marinate, the better it becomes.”

Like many children around her age, Fatou was fascinated by the world around her. 
She seemed to float instantly and seamlessly between the two planes she inhabited and understood:
 human and spirit. 
For Fatou, there was little or no difference between the two.

Ah, but much like trucks and dolls, robots and dress up clothes, there are those who think that certain playthings are only for certain children. 
It was understood, by almost all there in that region of Senegal, 
that the kora simply was not an instrument for girls.

“But how could that be?” Fatou would wonder, enchanted by Papa Moussa’s playing. “How could that be when the kora is so clearly a woman itself?” 

In love yet?
Yeah, me too.

Kinky Twists, an Afro & and Therapy for a Teeth Obsession

One of the things I love about social media is you can follow the creative process of whatever you're into. I love seeing the sketches and doodles of my favorite artists, illustrators & designers on Instagram and Facebook, particularly the ones with whom I collaborate. Today I got a mock up of one of the pages of my upcoming book Tallulah, the Tooth Fairy CEO, illustrated by Rome-based graphic designer Federico Fabiani.

And it's too good not to share.
Enjoy and check back in a couple of days to see if there are any updates!

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy, illustrated by Federico Fabiani

The face you make when you're the Beyonce of the teeth industry, you lunch with the likes of Santa's second wife Charlene & Prince is your first cousin on your momma's side...

meet Tallulah, the Tooth Fairy CEO
image by Federico Fabiani

So of the many books that changed my entire life and perspective on all things, I'd say The Alchemist is pretty high on the list.

Nothing besides You are a Badass

and my momma have made me believe more in the power of asking, believing and receiving. (I've given out so many copies of Jen Sincero's book I could damn near be a rep for her).

The image above of Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is proof that if you move in the direction of what you really want, do your part (in this case that included writing the story and sharing a bit of it), ask for what you need, and then remain open to receiving just that in the form that the universe deems best, the thrills that await are just mind-boggling and glorious.

So I was so excited about this story that it became my new favorite thing. And while blogging I wrote something like, "Lord Jesus! I just can't wait! Somebody come illustrate this thing!"

And then boom.
Federico Fabiani, an amazing graphic designer and artist who designed the first website for The English Schoolhouse when it operated as just a language school, slid this beauty in my inbox with a simple "Hello."

I fell in love with it.
And so did a bunch of my Facebook friends.
A few have already put in requests for prints.

Faith =

Sneak Peek at my new book - Tallulah, Tooth Fairy and CEO

Or that's the tentative title.
Hello, friends!
It's been a minute!
But I'm BaCk like the beginning of this Yonce song...

hot sauce.

So if you've followed the blog for a couple of years you know that I get a lot of inspiration for my books from my sons and my experiences. How this book came about is no different.

I'll save myself time and just copy my Facebook post from a couple of days ago. (Um, I'm on the 'gram too--@tamarapizzoli. Holla.)

Rome today...
An example of how my book ideas come about. Noah got home all excited because one of his front teeth is finally gone. He knows he has one job...get it under his pillow safely before going to bed. He hasn't been home two hours and he's already lost the thing somewhere in his bedroom.
Me: (emotional, nearly 5 months pregnant): NoW what do we do?!?! What are you going to leave the tooth fairy?!?!
Him: *shrugs* I'll just write her a letter and explain what happened. I'm sure she'll understand.
Me: hmmmmm....

So we never did find the tooth. And I was so inspired by the idea of leaving a letter for her instead of something pearly and white that I didn't even ask him to look for it. Noah did write the letter, and it went a little something like this-
Tooth fairy,
I hab (sp) a tooth for you but I lost it.
From: Noah

The minute he and his brother Milo were in bed I started writing furiously.
By 11 pm Tallulah the Tooth Fairy was done.

Enjoy the first part of it below. Some things that are important to keep in mind as you read--
-In my imagination, Tallulah is a business mogul with a thing for teeth.
-She's incredibly fab and a cross between two of my life muses--Iris Peynado and Iris Apfel.
(side note: Iris Peynado plays my therapist in my upcoming web series Black Girls in Rome. You can get a glimpse of her here)

-Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is well-connected. She's had lunch with Santa's wife, Charlene.

The story came out quirky and fun and zany and I adore it. So much so that I'm desperately dating illustrators today. I want this thing done like NOW! I have two in mind--Elena Tommasi Ferroni, a dear friend of mine and the main artist for whom I curate. We collaborated on a recent exhibition at Fox Gallery here in Rome--In Nero: Fairytales and Histories Reimagined and Retold. 
Me as Cleopatra by Elena Tommasi Ferroni, 2015
And Maria Chiara Castelli, brilliant artist and daughter of Gaetano Castelli, Art Director of The Moulin Rouge. Art just runs in the veins of that family, I suppose.
Maria Chiara's nephew by Maria Chiara Castelli, 2015

Mmmm-k. So here we go.
Now remember, The Tooth Fairy looks like this...

photo credit: Sheila McKinnon

And dresses like this...

Accessories all adorned with teeth, mind you.

Lord JESUS! I can't wait! Somebody come illustrate this thing!

Tallulah the tooth fairy had been in the tooth business for as long as she or anyone she knew could remember. The thing is, people have always liked to romanticize the idea of what Talullah’s job actually is and what she actually does. But make no mistake…pearly whites was more than just Tallulah’s business. It was her career. And she took dentition seriously. What began as just a genuine curiosity for all things dental had grown and evolved into a full-blown, thriving corporation founded, run, and managed by Tallulah—Teeth Titans, Inc.

So serious was Tallulah about her commitment to ivories that she also founded the National Association for the Appreciation and Care of Primary Teeth—or the NAACP-T. Like any notable mogul, Tallulah found she was most productive when she struck a healthy balance between her passion, purpose, and what pays.

Thus she adhered to a strict schedule that kept her both busy and fulfilled.
On Monday and Wednesday mornings it was coffee or tea with no sugar (it’ll rot your teeth), a quick work out session and a chat with her therapist.

(illustration inspiration—therapist in the chair: “So when did the obsession with teeth begin? … Tallulah on the couch: “I like to think of it as more of a calling…”)

Tuesday and Thursday mornings were dedicated to yoga, pilates and running errands.

Friday a.m. was reserved for visiting museums. She found exhibitions on teeth to be particularly fascinating.

Each afternoon Tallulah dedicated to training other up and coming tooth fairies. What?
You’re not surprised, are you?
Well of course there’s more than one tooth fairy.
There are way too many lost teeth in the world to attend to for one person to manage.
Tallulah was the tooth fairy, not Santa Claus….though she had lunched with Santa’s lovely wife Charlene once.

(illustration inspiration: Tallulah and Charlene having lunch in an incredibly chic igloo…Charlene asking the waiter, an elf, for an Irish coffee.)

The road to being a mogul hadn’t been easy, Tallulah liked to say, but it had been worth it.

(illustration inspiration: Tallulah being interviewed on a late-night talk show)

“I just became swamped with all the work so I had to hire additional help. Sure I’m in it for the teeth; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But the greatest satisfaction is knowing that I’m providing a great service to children around the world…Each and every fairy is trained by me. Yes, I oversee all the hiring…”

The term “fairy” is just my clever marketing ploy to soften and make palpable what we really are: an unstoppable team of strategized earners at the top of our game and armed to the teeth with teeth. Each tooth fairy learns everything they need to know in my 3 week training session. Enrollment is available for qualified candidates at the low price of $795.

(illustration inspiration—Tallulah addressing an auditorium full of fairy hopefuls from a stage much like the TED talks. Huge stage, she’s the only one on it, with one mic and a screen behind her that reads—
Questions you may get but are not obligated to answer:
-How does the tooth fairy get in the house?
-What do we do with the teeth?
-How are we notified when a tooth is lost?)

Tallulah speaking: The answers to these questions and more are in the top secret Teeth Titans, Inc. Employee Manual.

Each evening, after an early dinner and a bit of relaxing, Tallulah began her rounds as head tooth fairy. Sure she could afford to be a lazy lie about, but nothing gave Tallulah quite the same thrill as sliding a shiny tooth out from under a child’s pillow and inserting something gleaming and jingly or crisp and easily folded in exchange.

And so she did.
Night after night...

Last thing...
wouldn't it be a RIOT if Santa's wife looked like this?!

I love my job.