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Ageless Tales

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Like most mothers, Michelle Bodden did not think much of retelling the traditional African stories she had known for years to her two children when they were young, that is, until their friends kept asking for the stories to be repeated."I think I told [the story] to the same group of kids about 10 times," she said. "If they enjoyed it so much, then I thought maybe other kids will enjoy them, too."Within the next six years, the Ozone Park resident self-published two children's books - "Obara and the Merchants" in 2004 and "Obara the Gatekeeper" in 2006 - through her start-up company, Water Daughter Publishing LLC, and won honorable mention at the 13th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards last year.Each book is based on an "apataki," a fable-like religious tale from Nigeria's Yoruba tribe, and is meant to teach children important character-building skills like honesty and hard work while still entertaining them."[Obara is] a regular guy who has to make choices and they're good choices," said Bodden. "He's not a super-perfect, great guy. For children, in particular, they have to understand what qualities to use in guiding them in their choices."In "Obara and the Merchant," Obara is forced to decide whether or not to share the food in his famine-afflicted village with traveling merchants, and in "Obara the Gatekeeper," he learns the true values in life despite becoming wealthy."They're not simple stories, where on the third page you know what's going to happen," said Bodden. "There are surprises in the end. It is great for parents to teach with."Bodden, 46, is a New York University understudies graduate and a Hunter College elementary education master's graduate. She taught in elementary schools in Cincinnati, Ohio and in Brooklyn before becoming the United Federation of Teachers vice president in 1992. She credits her long career in the education system with helping her write the books with a clear vision."I didn't want to have the stories altered," she said of her decision to self-publish. "I was concerned if we went to a publisher, they would have had editorial control."Illustrator Quentin "kwenci" Jones, 53, Bodden's longtime friend and fellow Yoruba Orisha worshiper, said although the books are oriented toward young children, any person can learn from their multi-faceted themes."We are all susceptible to negatives like vanity, pride," he said. "We tend to ignore the things that hold us together."According to Yoruba beliefs, there is a life source in all of nature including trees and rivers that connect us, and Jones highlights Obara's connection to flora and fauna with rich and detailed full-page art work."I try to include images in my artwork so that the color catches your eye before the image does," he said. "[The illustrations] remind us of the forces of nature, which are greater than any technology we can come up with, and that's important in an urban setting."Bodden's books are available through her Web site www.waterdaughter.com, www.amazon.com and in select African bookstores throughout New York City. She is currently working on a third children's book titled "The Frog Who Would Be King."

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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