Kingdom of Dust by Lisa Stringfellow

Happy Wednesday! I'm thrilled Lisa Stringfellow stopped by to finish my sentences. We discussed Kingdom of Dust's stunning cover, Amara, Kun, storytelling, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thak you, Lisa! 

Michael Machira Mwangi’s cover illustration and David Curtis’s cover design for Kingdom of Dust bring the world of Amara alive. There are hidden seeds of the story in every object and detail on the cover, from the instruments scattered on the ground to the tower rising in the background.

Kingdom of Dust tells the story of Amara, a 12-year-old girl who does not know her past and must work to save her future. When her home is destroyed, Amara sets out to find the mysterious griots who might hold the key to stopping an evil king and the dust that ravages the land.

Kingdom of Dust is a story about memory, spirituality, justice, and love.

Kun is a mythological land inspired by ancient West African kingdoms, like the Kingdom of Nri in what is now modern-day Nigeria. The heartbeat of Kun is the power of memory.

I love fairy tales and when drafting Kingdom of Dust, I first imagined a medieval European landscape, like the fairy tales I had grown up with. Despite my efforts, I had trouble connecting with that setting and making a story come together.

Happily, I had the good fortune to have a conversation with award-winning children’s author Gail Carson Levine who helped me break through my difficulty. She told me, “medieval is a time period, not a place.” I was stunned but realized she was completely right! I shifted my gaze from Europe to Africa. As I researched the vast accomplishments of pre-colonial African civilizations, I became more and more excited. Kun was finally born.

Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity, but I do my best work when I can be in community with others. Talking about ideas, sharing my words, receiving encouragement, and returning that favor to others are the most fulfilling aspects of this work.

As a middle school teacher, I try to model this for my students. While working on this novel, I put myself in the hotseat by sharing the first chapter of Kingdom of Dust with my 5th graders. They told me what they liked, asked questions about what confused them, and made suggestions for how I could make the opening pages better.

These are the skills I want them to learn and practice, so that they can not only help each other, but also improve their own writing.

John Schu, you should have asked me what is a griot?

The epigraph of Kingdom of Dust states, “When a griot dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground.”

In African culture and the broader Black diaspora, the role of griots—traditional poets who are musicians, historians, and storytellers—is vital.

In my first book, A Comb of Wishes, oral storytelling is central to the lives of the characters and is part of the culture of the fictional island of St. Rita. My new novel connects more directly with the important legacy of griots and adds a touch of magic, of course!

I can’t wait for readers to dive into Amara’s story and read about the griots of Kun.

Photo by Carter Hasegawa

Lisa Stringfellow is the author of A Comb of Wishes, which Newbery Award–winning author Kelly Barnhill called “one of the most promising works of fiction in a long time.” Lisa writes for her twelve-year-old self, the kid waiting to be the brown-skinned hero of an adventure, off saving the world. Lisa’s work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. She is a middle school teacher and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.

Look for Kingdom of Dust on August 20, 2024.


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