Based in Washington, DC, Callaloo was created by Marjuan and Nabeeh and in essence, is a children’s media brand that promotes cultural understanding and social awareness education for toddlers and children ages 3-7. They produce books, animation, live performances, digital content, games, and arts education tools and they have worked with the Smithsonian, the White House, Sesame Street, and numerous other national and international companies. Callaloo also has self-published four book titles in both English and Spanish which are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble along with digital content that is streamed on international educational platforms.
There are no children in my house, but as a lover of both books and travel, I enjoy finding content that my extended family and friends with children can dive into. Through books, I’m able to expose the children in my life to the cultures, tastes, and sounds that greet me regularly as I travel and more importantly, I can do it without actually taking them with me. No shade! It’s simply a matter of no budget.
So when I sat and listened to a panel of authors speak at a recent industry event and heard Marjuan talk about their latest book, Callaloo: The Legend of the Golden Coquí, I knew they simply got it. The book follows Winston and his best friend Marisol, two NYC kids, as they travel to Puerto Rico to free the “legendary golden coqui frog trapped in El Yunque Rainforest.” Read the story for yourself, but for the sake of understanding why I immediately ran over and introduced myself to Marjuan after the panel was finished, I need to tell you that the book includes Taino Indians, a Chupacabra, and dinner at Abuela’s. Also, Winston’s first adventure in Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale, includes a magic trip to Tobago and learning about the ingredients needed for his aunt’s callaloo.
In my head, I saw myself reading these books to my nephew and then pointing out places on the map and taking him out for callaloo because he wanted to know more. I actually had an entire scenario planned around this book that painted me as an amazing aunt, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that I wanted my nephew to know these words, understand these tastes, and imagine these places. I wanted to spark wanderlust in him early, in hopes that he too would grow an appreciation for how vast this world is and how many cultures there are. My made-up scenario is essentially exactly why Canady and Bilal created the company. Reaching children and encouraging literacy, cultural understanding and social awareness is their mission. Through their brand, Callaloo aims to empower all children to take pride in themselves and expand their horizons.
So how did this company come about anyway?
According to their history:
“In 2012, Marjuan Canady began writing a collaborative folklore theatrical play entitled, Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale. Directed by Natalie Carter and featuring music from Trinidadian trumpet composer/musician, Etienne Charles, the show played at The Ellington Theatre in Washington, DC and the IATI Theatre (Off-Broadway) in New York City. The play was a workshop play at the 2013 Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Director’s Lab in New York City. In 2013, visual artist Nabeeh Bilal joined teams with Marjuan Canady and began self-publishing the first book in the series.”
Regarding future endeavors, Canady and Bilal would like to get Callaloo on a network, as well as start producing live shows with the puppets. Marjuan also mentions that Broadway may be a goal too. Right now, however, they are focusing on releasing their third book in June – an adventure through Gullah country with my new friend in my head, Winston!