Today we are chatting with Tolá Okogwu, author of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun
Read on for more about her, the book, and a giveaway!
Meet Tolá Okogwu:
Tolá Okogwu is a British Nigerian author, journalist, and hair care educator. Born in Nigeria but raised in London, she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. Having spent several years exploring the world of blogging, haircare, and freelance writing, she finally returned to her first love…fiction. She is the author of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, the self-published picture book series Daddy Do My Hair, and Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door under the name Lola Morayo. Tola lives in Kent, England, with her husband and two daughters. An avid reader and lover of music, she’s also a sucker for melted cheese. Learn more at TolaOkogwu.com
About the Book: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun
Black Panther meets X-Men in this action-packed and empowering middle grade adventure about a British Nigerian girl who learns that her Afro hair has psychokinetic powers—perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers, The Marvellers, and Rick Riordan!
Onyeka has a lot of hair—the kind that makes strangers stop in the street and her peers whisper behind her back. At least she has Cheyenne, her best friend, who couldn’t care less what other people think. Still, Onyeka has always felt insecure about her vibrant curls…until the day Cheyenne almost drowns and Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own, inexplicably pulling Cheyenne from the water.
At home, Onyeka’s mother tells her the shocking truth: Onyeka’s psycho-kinetic powers make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with super powers unique to Nigeria. Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies…
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
The idea for Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun came from a very simple idea… ‘what if a girl discovers that the very thing she considers to be her greatest flaw, turns out to be her greatest strength?’ I knew immediately that it was a book about superheroes and that her powers would come from her hair. For the longest time, Afro textured hair has been seen as something undesirable and this is a perception I constantly challenge in my writing and in my work as a hair care educator. I’ve also been a fan of superhero stories since childhood, but rarely came across any that featured people who looked like me as the hero.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel!! The final title took AGES to figure out and I went through about three truly awful options first. I was on submission to publishers with the manuscript and I had to come up with something quickly. Onyeka is such a beautiful name that it felt right that it should be in the title.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
It would have to be the scene where Onyeka and Adanna work out their differences. Friendship is a really big theme in this book, as is hair and in that scene I got to combine the two into what I think is a really beautiful moment.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
That it features a dark-skinned Black girl and her afro textured hair in all their glory front and centre. There’s no hiding or minimising it and that makes it glorious. The cover was illustrated by the amazing Brittany Jackson and when I first saw it, I couldn’t stop grinning. She did such a phenomenal job capturing Onyeka and her power and it makes the book stand out on any shelf.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2022?
I’m very much looking forward to the release of Umbra Tales: the Lightcasters by Janelle McCurdy. It’s such a brilliant middle grade fantasy adventure, with memorable characters and a unique world heavily influenced by Janelle’s gaming background. I got to read an advance copy and I have to say it’s phenomenal.
YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?
Another book I read recently, which blew me away is Sadé and her Shadow Beasts by Rachel Faturoti. It’s a beautiful story about grief, hope and family, written in a way many children will be able to relate to. I think it’s going to be a future classic.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I’m currently editing book two in the Onyeka series: Onyeka and the Legacy of the Solari, which comes out early next year. I’m also looking forward to working on the film adaptation of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, which is being produced by Netflix.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Hassan, definitely. He speaks Nigerian Pidgin English, and it was important to me not to misrepresent or ‘other’ the language in the book. So finding the balance where the reader could understand him without having to use translations was definitely tricky. I just hope I pulled it off.
YABC: What is the main message or lesson you would like your reader to remember from this book?
I hope when they read Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, they see their fears, hopes, weakness and strengths represented. I hope Black children especially see themselves reflected in a way that is positive and inspirational. Where their Blackness is front and centre but isn’t the entirety of the story. The book is about accepting what makes you different and claiming the power that gives you. Something I believe is universal no matter who you are or where you come from.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
Other than writing books?? 🙂 It would have to be storing random facts. My family calls me Tikipedia because of the way I can regurgitate information. I’m absolutely the woman to take with you to the local quiz night!!
Book’s Title: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun
Author: Tolá Okogwu
Release Date: 6/14/22
Publisher: Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books
Age Range: 8 to 12
Three winners will receive a finished copy of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun (Tolá Okogwu) ~US Only
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway!*