By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN —Heru the Happy Dragon, by Fred ‘Doc’ Beasley, is “a love letter to Black and Brown children, and the original and indigenous children of the diaspora, letting them know that their health, their creativity and their imagination is paramount,” the author said.
“As a father of four children myself, learning things that pained me in [my children’s] early processes was that there weren’t too many characters they could look to in the media that reinforced who they were, for them to have pride in themselves. I saw that void there. Also as someone who’s been working with at-risk youth for over two decades, you realize how important of a role the media plays in children’s lives when you deal with them up close and they feel like no one represents them or sees or knows their stories.”
Children who never see themselves in the shows they watch, and, yes, the books they read can leave them feeling othered, and therefore not valued, which they begin to see as normal, even within themselves, Beasley intimated. “It really inspired me to try to create something that could reinforce their beauty, their intelligence, their genius, their wisdom and their strength through art.”
Further, he said, “I think adults who read the book will also be able to find some type of strength and moral in the story because, at its root, the book speaks about making a pivot and knowing what you have in your dreams and your ideas … can push you to greatness.”
Heru, a humble yet powerful servant to the Crown, asks his King and Queen to allow him to serve them in another way— through his passion for cooking and farming.
But though Heru had served them well, the King and Queen laughed at him, and denied his request. “And because they laugh at him, it forces him to rethink all of his years of service. Here he is, a dragon of the highest rank who has the riches, who has the so-called honor, but yet he knows there’s something missing inside,” Beasley said. “In the process of writing this book, you know, we were experiencing Covid. And a lot of people … they kind of felt that same void, like, ‘What do I do now?’ ‘How do I pivot and still find meaning in what’s happening?’ Because the whole world was changing in front of our eyes.”
What lessons will readers learn from Heru the Happy Dragon? Understanding mental health, social and emotional learning, growth and development, conflict resolution, cpnfidence and even a bit of urban farming, Beasley remarked.
This book is the culmination of years and years of his experiences, focused into a form children can understand, which is why there’s lots of pictures to help spark the reader’s imagination.
Heru is Egyptian for ‘hero,’ and he wants children to know “they have the ability to be that hero they’re seeking, and they can find that hero when they look in the mirror and look inside themselves.”
He continued, “The powers that be, or in this case the king and queen, who represent the power structure, do not do anything to affirm him.” Beasley pointed out that the same has occurred throughout our nation’s history, drawing a line from the murder of young Emmett Till to Michael Brown and George Floyd, along with the countless “unnamed young indigenous people whose options have been taken because they wereen’t valued or even considered to be citizens according to the highest document of the land, the Constitution. How do you reconcile that in someone’s mind when they’re looking at mass media and they’re seeing people who look like them being gunned down… in the streets and just being treated other than? It puts you in a very precarious place as a parent, trying to reconcile that in their imaginations without making them bitter toward the world, without making them afraid.”
Beasley said the characters in the book aren’t human because readers won’t impose their inherent biases on animals and other mythical creatures in the same way they would with people. And Heru being a dragon was very much intentional. “A dragon is a mythical creature, and to me, in many ways, the indigenous population of the diaspora are mythical creatures to the world at large,” Beasley explained.
Heru’s passion is also a subtle nod to living a healthier lifestyle, as he prepares dishes consisting of vegetables for the people in the kingdom. Beasley said he feels it’s an important message because, in so many communities, people don’t eat food, they eat emotions.
Beasley self-published this first installment of Heru the Happy Dragon and held an in-person reading at Alkebu-Lan Images Sun., July 24. You can buy the book at heruthehappydragon.com.