Isabel Cintra is a children’s fairy tale author (most recently The Great Little Tailor and The Princess and the Mirror) who writes about themes of diversity, acceptance and representation. Cintra gravitates to the fantasy and charm of fairy tales as an outlet for these themes explaining that as a child “Whenever I read these books, I would think: Why don’t I ever see Black characters? And at night, in my bed, I could imagine how beautiful they’d be! From these beautiful childhood memories, I created each character in the stories. They are characters that have always been ready in my mind, I just moved them to paper.”
Here Picture This Post ( PTP) talks to Isabel Cintra (IC) about her mission to include representation in her books, her love for fairytales and her latest works.
(PTP) Please share with our readers what you meant when you said, “I often say that I was always a shy girl, but today I see that I was a silenced girl. I want to leave it to my daughters and not only to them, but also to other Black children, who seek this freedom and are not afraid to say no, because that was my greatest difficulty in childhood”.
(IC): I think this is such an important subject. When people who feel offended or discriminated against try to express their feelings, they are sometimes silenced by others. This situation happened to me so many times during my childhood in Brazil. I feel that my own life story is an example of resilience, and a constant search for self-esteem and I am very grateful for learning those life skills.
What are your goals as an author for children’s books?
I realized early on in my writing career, that by showing an authenticity in my work, people would feel comfortable with me and with my stories. I see in every Black girl, the child I once was. My wish is that they feel represented and encouraged on each and every page. It is always such an exciting time to receive photos from readers! It confirms for me that I am doing what I should be doing: writing!
Can you describe to our readers why you gravitate to fairy tales and including diverse characters in these stories?
I was born in a small town in São Paulo, Brazil. One of the things I love most about Brazil is the diversity of the people. This diversity is reflected in my work.
I grew up reading magical and incredible books. Fairy tales are unique stories and each one of them brings its own brilliance and charm. Whenever I read these books, I would think: Why don’t I ever see Black characters? And at night, in my bed, I could imagine how beautiful they’d be! From these beautiful childhood memories, I created each character in the stories. They are characters that have always been ready in my mind, I just moved them to paper. I want to give children of color an opportunity to see themselves in stories. In addition, the aim of my books is to broaden the perspective of all children by fostering a child’s sense of empathy and connection with characters who might look different from themselves.
Can you share with our readers the premise and inspiration for your latest books The Princess and the Mirror and The Great Little Tailor?
The Princess and the Mirror is a book that was developed out of a childhood dream. That dream included a princess who looked like me along with other characters like queens and fairy godmothers. It is a fairy tale whose mission is to transport children to a magical world while teaching important life lessons along the way.
For The Great Little Tailor hope, self-discovery and self-acceptance are all part of the journey of Akin and his father. It is wonderful to be able to inspire little readers to have hope in their dreams and to never give up on them. When I look at Akin's character, I can see myself.
These fairy tales were released during the pandemic, so I haven’t been able to meet many readers in person. I can’t wait for the time to come when I will be able to speak with children about the books face to face!
How do you collaborate with your brother, Zeka Cintra, the illustrator for your books?
My brother was already a little genius by age six. He was making such incredible drawings for a child of that age that I (two years younger), liked to be around him all of the time! Watching and admiring his work was one of my favorite things to do. I’m proud to say he is the creator of the illustrations in all my books, and this is a blessing because we have such a close relationship.
The collaborative work of putting together the text with the illustrations works well for us. He always surprises me by adding his fantastic creative ideas!
Can you tell Picture This Post readers about your work disseminating Portuguese-speaking literature around the world?
I was born in a small town in São Paulo, Brazil. One of the things I love most about Brazil is the diversity of the people. This diversity is reflected in my work. There are already many countries that do a beautiful job of maintaining and developing Portuguese as a heritage language. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with some of my books both in Europe and in Japan. It is a very important job that supports and embraces many families around the world