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Oakville author introduces the African warrior queen Idia to the pantheon of fairy book heroines

Ekiuwa Aire could not find cartoon princesses who looked like her preschool children, so she set out to create one for them.
Ekiuwa Aire
Ekiuwa Aire | Oakville children's book author poses with her new book Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Long, long ago, in a land far away, there was a prosperous kingdom called Benin, where there lived a brave and cunning warrior queen named Idia. Her life was an epic adventure worthy of inclusion in any boxed set of Disney princess movies. But if Idia’s inspiring tale is unknown to little kids growing up today, Oakville author Ekiuwa Aire is here to change all that.

Aire aims to free Idia from the thesis-level papers where her story and legacy were previously locked up, by creating a beautifully illustrated children’s book presenting a culturally accurate portrayal of the historic heroine as a young girl.

Like the protagonist of her book, the 37-year-old Nigerian-Canadian couldn’t turn away from her vision once it had been dreamed. “I didn’t set out to become a children’s book author,” she says today. “I was just looking to introduce my heritage to my young kids, but I couldn’t find anything. So I decided to take a stab at fixing what I thought was a problem. I thought I would just write this book, fix this problem, and move along!”

That was four years ago. Little did she know the daunting journey that lay ahead. Had she been aware, she says, she likely wouldn’t have started. “It’s not just about writing a book, and then the world is grateful -- ‘oh you’ve written a book about Africa!’” Aire laughs.

A data analyst in her day job, the self-described introvert says she formerly never posted much on social media. But given the business machinery required to successfully launch a children’s book, she had to teach herself how to build a social media profile, attract thousands of followers, assemble a team including an editor, layout artist, illustrator and publicist, and found her own publishing house, Our Ancestories. Her West Oak Trails basement has become her first warehouse where pallets of the first book run will be stored before she gets them out to distributors. She is already penning her second book, this time on Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, from present-day Angola.

Writing and self-publishing her book has not been easy, but she is glad she went the route she did because she was able to maintain complete editorial control. “Africa is perceived with a bias that I think the whole world is becoming aware of,“ she reflects. “We don’t all have control of our biases, but I wanted to make sure this book was free of those biases. The only reason I went down this path was because of the love of my kids.” 

“Where I grew up (in Benin City), I didn’t know about being a minority or being underrepresented. Although the fairy tales princesses did not look like us, we were surrounded by people who did look like us. Here as an immigrant, my children are a minority and I wanted to help them with their sense of identity, and know where they come from.” Fortunately, her daughters, now six and eight-years-old, love the book and have been inspired by the process to create books of their own. “My kids are so proud. They can’t even believe it that there is a book about their culture.” 

Currently available for pre-order, the hardcover version of Idia of the Benin Kingdom, becomes available on December 7, 2020.

Catch the author reading online November 27 at 6 p.m. EST as part of: Black Friday: Children's Virtual Book Fair Online Event.