In 2020, as the entire world was shut down by Covid-19, Tinée Furbert struggled to cope with the loss of her best friend.
They had been on holiday together when Keita Wilson passed suddenly.
“I came back home and, of course, I was feeling a bit down and then, soon after, the country went into lockdown,” said Ms Furbert.
The occupational therapist was normally busy in multiple roles but now the mother-of-two and Minister of Social Development and Seniors, suddenly had a bit more time on her hands.
“I was listening to a podcast and it said, ‘While you have this still time, this down time, do something wise with your time.’”
Writing a book was something she had wanted to do for a long time. Added to that she had “a passion for children’s literature” that was likely instilled by the nightly calls she made while a youngster to the Bermuda Youth Library’s bedtime story scheme.
“I had already started the script of Fudgesicle but I hadn’t completed it because I just did not have the time to do it,” Ms Furbert said.
“It was particularly cathartic for me to write because I got to use some of the words to remember my friend, and also to help me heal.”
As described on Amazon, Fudgesicle is “a colourful, positive upbeat story” of a young girl’s introduction to the chocolate-flavoured frozen treat.
“Novi and her mom discover how different fudgesicles can be compared to various brown skin tones, including her own. During their day’s journey, Novi experiences disappointment and joy and learns self-awareness, self-image, and self-confidence lessons,” the synopsis reads.
Reminiscing after the death of her friend, Ms Furbert remembered how people would often use “descriptive words” to refer to acquaintances and how she frequently got called “yella” and Ms Wilson “chocolate”.
Meanwhile, the loss made her even more aware of the importance of family, she added.
“So Fudgsicle then became entwined into my favourite childhood frozen treats, with the relationship with family and the relationship with my best friend.”
The MP remembers how much she had enjoyed the fudgesicles made by Simmons Ice Cream Factory that her mother bought her from Hitching Post, a store in Sandys that has since closed.
“I just remember while I was grieving wanting to think of places and experiences that made me feel good and that was one,” she said.
She was determined not to waste an opportunity and started writing. At some point, she handed it all over to Florenz Maxwell to have a look.
The celebrated author insisted that Ms Furbert turn Fudgesicle “into a story”.
“Initially I had written it as if it was coming from an adult, coming from me,” she said.
Changing tack took “quite a bit of work” and then began the hunt for a Bermudian illustrator.
Gherdai Hassell, an artist, writer and storyteller, proved a perfect fit.
“She read the script and she said, ‘Yes, Tinée I want to do this. This falls in line with what I want to share about black and brown girls’ experiences in Bermuda,” Ms Furbert said.
“She did an amazing job with the pictures; an amazing job capturing certain landscapes and sites in Bermuda, and with the colouring.”
Together they developed a colour scheme and selected all the details – everything “from the dress to the shoes, to the colour of the hair to the type of purse”.
“Everything was really picked very carefully,” Ms Furbert said.
Her hope is that the book encourages “young black and brown girls” to accept their skin.
“As far as bleaching and skin lightening products that are on the market – it’s a billion dollar industry. It tells us that people are not comfortable with their skin colour, particularly in African and Asian countries.
“And so really this is a story to help young girls to understand and recognise that we all come with different skin tones and it’s OK – whether or not you have freckles, whether or not your skin is lighter, darker …. This really brings all of that together.”
The 42-page book is aimed at children between the ages of four and eight and uses fudgesicles with flavours such as mocha, cinnamon and chestnut to illustrate the various shades that people come in.
The book is a dream come true for Ms Furbert.
“I love children’s literature. I grew up on lots of books. I’ve always got them as presents. It always was a dream of mine, particularly to write children’s literature. People think it’s easy, it’s difficult.”
The team at KP Publishing taught her to think differently when writing for children rather than adults.
Before going to print, Ms Furbert shared Fudgesicle with young children and their parents.
“I took the opportunity to watch their expressions,” she said. “Even when a parent was reading to a child, I was observing that interaction and in some instances I had to go back and make corrections based on that.
“My daughter, when I first started this book, was 12. She was very helpful and she would say, ‘Mommy, I’m not going to say that…’”
Fudgesicle has been received well in the US, said KP Publishing founder Willa Robinson.
“Skin colouring and lightening is such a big industry. If we can reach our young children at an early age to help them to be accepting of who they are and what they bring to the table, it is just so remarkable. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful book.”
Ms Furbert’s plan is to write another one when she is able to grab some time.
“I’m a very busy person so it’s going to be very challenging to write. I do have some things scripted already. It’s just now taking the time to be able to put that one together.”
Pre-order Fudgesicle on Amazon.com, www.kp-pub.com and www.tineesplace.com. Hard copies of the book should be in Brown & Co and other bookstores by the end of the month.