A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow

Hello, Lisa Stringfellow! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I’m overjoyed you’re here today to share Michael Machira Mwangi’s cover illustration and David Curtis’ cover design for your debut novel, A Comb of Wishes. What ran through your head or your HEART the first time you saw the cover?

Lisa Stringfellow:
 Thank you, John! I waited in eager anticipation of what Michael Machira Mwangi would create, having seen his beautiful work online. I am enthralled by how accurately he captured the essence and emotions of the main characters, Kela and Ophidia. Kela’s wonder and Ophidia’s rage are conveyed so vividly. Michael captured tiny details like the crocheted sea glass bracelets that Kela makes and he even included the zig zag design on the comb she finds, which is based on patterns used by West African artists. The mirror dripping water is like a page from my imagination. The combination of illustration and design is infused with magic and I love it all!

Scenario: Imagine you’re booktalking A Comb of Wishes to your students. What do you tell them about it?

Lisa Stringfellow: I’ve done this many times, actually! I usually say:

Twelve-year old Kela is grieving her mother’s recent death when she stumbles on an ancient box in a coral cave. Inside is a beautiful hair comb and when she touches it, she opens a magical connection to a dangerous mermaid named Ophidia. The mermaid offers Kela a wish in exchange for her comb’s return, so Kela wishes for the thing she wants more than anything else...for her mother to come back.

I love your booktalk. Can you share two or three lines from A Comb of Wishes that made you laugh, cry, or your heart flutter when you finished writing them?

Lisa Stringfellow: My heart pounded along with Kela’s as I wrote the scene where she makes her wish. She weighs the danger and her own desires and knows that whatever she decides, there will be consequences.

“At the beach, a golden sun baked the sand. Light bounced off the surface of the water like shattered diamonds. Or mermaid’s tears.

Ophidia’s warning clouded her thoughts, but breathing deeply, Kela thought about what she truly wanted. She exhaled. It was worth the price.”

Click here to read about the Little Free Library Lisa designed.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Kela loves hard and can’t imagine a family that isn’t exactly like the one she had before her mother’s death. She is brave but flawed, and painfully learns from her mistakes. Despite all she goes through, she is resilient and hopeful.

On February 8, 2022, I will be excited to share A Comb of Wishes with young readers. It’s a story I wish I had been able to read when I was in middle school. Set in the Caribbean, Kela’s world is filled with stories and hidden magic, but also populated by a community of loving adults and friends. I am proud that my book will further positive representations of Black girls and Black communities.

Story is memory. As humans we enjoy stories and they help us process the world. They teach us who we are by allowing us to see ourselves in others. In A Comb of Wishes, storytelling culture is explored. In communities around the world, oral traditions keep alive histories and create shared experiences through the interplay between the teller, the tale, and the audience. “The story is put on you” is a refrain I use in the book, which means that once a person hears a story, the meaning of it rests with them and not the storyteller. I hope the same will be true for my book, and that young readers will come away with new understandings of themselves and others.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I wrote this book!

Growing up, if I found a book with a Black main character in my elementary or middle school library, it was usually historical or realistic fiction. Few of that number were actually written by Black authors. Gritty urban stories and books centering on Civil Rights era trauma and pain were common, but what I didn’t find were stories that reflected the family and environment in which I lived. I wanted fantasies, like the ones I devoured, featuring characters of color.

A Comb of Wishes is a book that "middle-school-me" would have curled under the covers with a flashlight to read. A book where a girl like me could see herself on a magical adventure.

Thank you, Lisa! Congratulations! 

Photo by Carter Hasegawa

Lisa's bio in her own words.

Growing up, I was a voracious reader and books always took me to places where my imagination thrived. I love writing stories that spark that same wonder in others.

I'm also a teacher and have taught Language Arts and technology for over 27 years. Being around middle school kids all day, I've developed patience, creativity, flexibility, and an abundant sense of humor! Visit my teaching portfolio to learn more about my classroom.

I participate in writing communities through Inked Voices, GrubStreet, and The Writers' Loft. I am a member of The Brown Bookshelf's Amplify Black Stories Cohort, KidLit in Color, Black Creators in Kidlit, and #22Debuts, as well as SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), where I am active in the New England regional chapter.

Look for A Comb of Wishes on February 8, 2022. 

Sure enough, the sea woman will come for what’s hers.

Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the beaches of St. Rita. But when she discovers a different kind of treasure, she accidentally summons an actual mermaid—the wrathful Ophidia.

Ophidia makes Kela a bargain: her ancient comb, in exchange for a wish. And though Kela knows that what she wants most is her mother back, a wish that big will exact a dangerous price…


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