by Ashyle Horton (@zeta_noelle)

MG Fantasy
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Query

African-American folklore, generational curses, and black boy joy come together in KURAJ AND THE SONS OF ANANSI, a MG contemporary fantasy novel. Complete at 54,000 words, it’s a standalone novel with series potential, perfect for fans of the cultural storytelling of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky and the themes of belief and family complexities of When You Trap a Tiger.

Twelve-year-old Kuraj Harris has never felt fully accepted by his dad because of the special bond he shares with his grandfather, a griot who shares stories of mythology and folklore of Africa that make Kuraj feel invincible. When Papa dies, Kuraj is left to handle his grief and the loss of storytelling while feeling like an outsider within his home.

On the anniversary of Papa’s death, a strange thunderstorm hits while Kuraj is home alone with his brother Zaire and sister Nia. During the storm, the trickster god Anansi appears—and he’s out for revenge. Anansi claims that Papa stole his stories, and he will stop at nothing to get them back. Anansi kidnaps Nia as collateral for the brothers finding the missing stories and returning them. But getting the stories back isn’t as easy as finding pieces of paper in a book.

With the help of Brer Rabbit, Kuraj and Zaire retrace Anansi’s legendary steps to receive the tales from the sky-god Nyame. The boys must fight and capture four creatures that the trickster once defeated to get back his stories before they and their sister are trapped in Anansi’s web for all eternity. But another force is behind the scenes, pulling invisible spider webs as Kuraj and Zaire get close to obtaining the stolen tales.

I live in Chicago, Illinois, and I work as a social worker, dedicated to empowering BIPOC youth, young adults, and communities. I am a RevPit 2022 winner and founding member of #PitBlk.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

First Five Pages

“Dad’s gonna get you,” my eleven-year-old younger brother Zaire—Zai for short, sings standing next to me, his body swinging back and forth, hands in his suit.

I stand in front of Papa’s study near the front door with the silver butter knife in my hand. Papa’s last words rattle in my brain like Mama’s keys.

It’s all on you, boy. Take care of ‘em. Take care of ‘em.

I roll my eyes. “Not if I don’t get caught.” Glancing down at my black suit and his navy one, a twinge of jealousy worms through me. Why does Zai get to wear my favorite suit? He always gets what he wants. I shake my head, locking the jealousy away tight like a jar. This ain’t the time. The focus is on taking care of them. “Be on the lookout.”

I step closer to Papa’s study, sticking the knife into the locked golden doorknob. Resting my ear against the Cherrywood door, I stick my tongue out the side of my mouth. Creaks move around the floor upstairs.

Zai pushes my shoulder. “Hurry up before they come down.”

Just one more click.

The doorknob clicks a few times before spilling out in my hands in pieces. My hands get sweaty, shoulders tight staring at the broken parts. “Uh-oh.” You probably think I meant to break the door open. You’re right. But it was an accident, I swear!

Zai looks over my shoulder at the doorknob. “Ooh, you’re gonna get it,” he laughs.

I grit my teeth, nostrils flaring. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Zai opens his mouth wide. “Dad! Kuraj broke Papa’s doorknob!”

The floorboards groan as heavy feet gallop downstairs like horses. I whimper from the noise. Zai runs away toward the backroom, laughing at his snitching. He’s gonna get it.

The broken parts fumble in my hands as I try piecing them back together. I stick it in the hole in the door, but it falls back out.

“Kuraj!” Dad yells at the top of his lungs from the staircase. I freeze. The doorknob slips out of my hands and onto the wooden floor. Oh, shoot.

Turning around with a hard jump, Dad towers over me. He glares at the golden evidence on the floor. Dad folds his huge arms in front of him in a suit that matches mine, shiny black dress shoes sparkle in the light.

“Kuraj Osei Harris, what I tell ya ‘bout goin’ in Papa’s study?”

I bite my lips, bending down to pick up the evidence.

“Boy, answer me when I’m talking to ya.”

I stare at the backroom where Zai is sticking his tongue out at me. I’m gonna kill him.

Dad yanks me from the study, dragging me into the dining room with the broken knob in my hand. I wriggle as he yanks me. He sits me down in the wobbly wooden chair with his arms crossed. It’s like looking into a mirror but bigger and more intimidating. Same dark skin tone and face, and thick black curls I secretly wanna throw the doorknob at. I feel small looking at him so I shift my eyes to the beige tile floor.

“Why was you messing with Papa’s study? I told ya not to be in there no more. What’s wrong with you?”

My feet slide across the tile floor as I twist back and forth. I don’t think Dad loves me. No for real! Shut up, it ain’t sus! Okay fine. Maybe he loves me but he don’t like me. He’s always yelling at me, telling me I’m messing things up. Like I can’t do nothing right.

Dad’s eye twitches. “Boy, answer me when I’m talking to ya.”

My voice comes out tiny. “I just wanted to—”

“To what?” He cuts me off.

I clench my teeth. Can I get a chance to talk? “I—I remembered what Papa… he told me to take care of them, the stories.” The bubbling in my chest rises as I sniffle up the snot rising from the back of my throat.

A strange look comes over Dad’s face like he’s been punched in his stomach. He pinches his lips tight. “That’s it. No more talk about stories.”

“But that’s not fair!” I flail my arms.

Dad wipes his large hand down his face, shaking his head. “What’s not fair is you breaking into Papa’s study like you own the place. I told ya not to be in there. See, this what I’m talking ‘bout. You always causing trouble. You never listen to what I’m saying. Keep messing things up like you don’t know any better. Need to act better, do better. Act more like, like…”

“Like Zai… or you?” My light brown eyes burn into his.

“Either!” Dad throws his hands up. “You and Papa too much alike. Got ya head too far in the clouds with them stories instead of being sensible. Ya need to get over that and leave him alone. He ain’t here no more to guide ya but we are. Need to be like the rest of ya family and stop causing trouble.”

Kicking the chair legs, I grumble, “Papa didn’t think I caused trouble.”

Dad cringes, his voice shaking. “You and I remember Papa very differently.”

The bubbling takes over, spilling out like a volcanic eruption. “You’re just mad that Papa wanted me to look after his stories instead of you!” I almost knock over the chair as I get up and run out to the front porch.

Dad calls my name. “Kuraj! Kuraj!” But he doesn’t come for me. He never does.

Slamming the screen door shut, I tear off my red tie and throw it over the haint blue porch railing. The neighborhood dog pants in the shade of a nearby black gum tree. I snatch off my suit jacket and unbutton the dress shirt, leaving only my white t-shirt. Sitting down on the top porch step, I rub the back of my neck. My insides feel like spiders crawling around. I keep my focus on the weird but colorful bottles hanging from the trees surrounding the front yard. YaYa says the bottles and haint color ward off evil spirits. I think it’s sus. Who believes in evil spirits?

Maybe Dad’s right. I don’t listen on purpose but not with him. It’s with Papa. Papa is—was my grandpa, Dad’s daddy. And my best friend. But I’ve spent the past year forcing myself to forget everything about him. I don’t even believe in his folktales anymore. I thought finding them in his study would help but Dad won’t let me for whatever reason.

The stories he told made it seem like you could do anything. Everything except holding onto faith, I guess. I’m betraying Papa by losing faith in him and his stories, trying to be what Dad wants me to be now. And worse, I think I’m making Dad lose faith in me too cause I’m too much like Papa. I’m failing him by not being responsible enough. Nothing’s ever good enough. I’m not…good enough.

Clenching my fingers into fists, I squeeze my eyes shut as Dad’s words creep into my mind. You keep messing things up like you don’t know any better.

“Kuraj Harris, is that you?”

Squinting my left eye, my lip curls up glancing at Aunt Nancy. She not my real aunt, just YaYa’s neighbor. A nosy one at that. Her salt and pepper wavy hair is up in a bun. It looks less witchy than it usually is when I normally see her around. Aunt Nancy’s diamond-shaped face is shiny, even with sweat plastered on her cheeks.

“Oh, Kuraj.” Her arms open wide, coming after me like a shark swimming towards its prey. She captures me before I have the chance to escape. “Look how grown you’ve got. How old are you? I done forgot.” Her voice is like a bird’s song.

“Twelve,” I muffle in her blouse.

“Ooh, you almost a man now.”

I escape her bear claws, tumbling back onto the porch. Aunt Nancy searches behind me with her eyebrows crinkling.

“Is YaYa available?”

I groan under my breath. Everyone in Summerville comes to my grandma for stuff but after today? This is the wrong time for guests. “She’s taking a nap.”

“Mm,” she nods. “Yeah, that celebration was beautiful but so draining.” She eases down next to me, knees cracking like glass. Aunt Nancy waves a hand in front of her face, cocking her head towards me. She rests her free hand on my cheek. It’s so cold despite the heat that it makes me shudder. “Something’s different about you. What’s troubling ya soul?”

My fingers dance around one another. “I—I wanted to take care of them. Like Papa told me to.”

“Take care of what?”

I gulp, sneaking a peek up at her. Papa always told me to watch who I talked to about the stories. Staring Aunt Nancy up and down, I think about all the times she’s come over to help out. She should be trustworthy. “He told me to…take care of the stories.”

A twinkle flickers from Aunt Nancy’s left eye. “Stories?”

I nod, wiping the sweat from my forehead.

Aunt Nancy sneers at the browning grass in her yard. “Ya know, I’m something of a storyteller myself.” She chuckles, lips curling into a devilish grin. “Lemme tell ya one of my favorites.” Her hand swirls around in front of her. “Take it Papa told you a little something about the King of All stories—Anansi the spider?”

I shrug, picking at a dandelion growing between the porch steps. I wish she’d take a hint and leave. Besides, no one can tell a story like Papa can—could.

Her voice squeaks. “Hmph! Anansi would be offended. His name is worth speaking about. Used his supreme intellect to beat those stronger than him, tricking countless creatures to win favor with the Sky God Nyame. Helped him secure Nyame’s stories in the first place. Then they became the Spider tales. He once stole all the knowledge in the world, did you know that?”


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Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

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