Oodles of love
For 13 years, South Sacramento resident Paris Tompkins has had Oodles on her mind. The longtime seamstress has created a series of stories (for ages 4 to 10) about a town called Oodleville, with accompanying rag-doll characters called Oodles (the dolls are for all ages). In the stories, the Oodles have never been able to visit the outside world, because of dangers that border their town on all sides. They get around by riding on the backs of Oodle-Birds, which fly at altitudes proportional to their ages. But now that Mama Oodle-Bird has turned 100, she can fly high enough to take an Oodle past the Wicked Woods to whatever lies beyond. In Tompkins’ opening story, The First Trip, Oodleville News reporter Bubba will be the first to make the journey.
Having sewn a number of dolls by now, and written three complete stories, Tompkins is ready for a journey of her own. She’s taken business courses, studied business plans and sent the Bubba doll to China to get a prototype made, and she’s working hard to get her Oodles off the ground. To get in touch with Tompkins, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell me about the dolls.
I always gave Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls to my children and grandchildren. I had six children. I have 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. So I loved giving them rag dolls, and my daughter mentioned that there were no commercial black rag dolls. And so the idea came to me, and I did a lot of sewing—I’ve been a seamstress practically all my life—so I had lots of scraps and things around, so I made two dolls. The first two were called Punkin and Pookie, and they had their own storyline. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll go a little bit more commercial and find a way to bring the dolls into the future rather than in the past. So, I created the Oodles. … They’re characters who have just jumped off the page, and I’ve created them as rag dolls.
What about the clothes? You’re using sort of a traditional African color scheme, aren’t you?
Yes, but as you see, when I sent [Bubba] away for the prototype, they didn’t have the kente cloth. This fabric here is called kente cloth. In my sewing, I made a lot of African-American outfits, and that was one of my specialties. So I had quite a bit of this left over, and that’s what I used for the dolls because I loved the materials. And so the colors are sort of African-American colors. … But I don’t intend for [the dolls] to just be Afrocentric. I’d like for them to be universally commercial. I’d like for everybody to find them attractive and loving and enjoyable and friendly.
The way they would any other dolls.
The way they would any other dolls. So, these came from my heart. There’s no pain or shame connected with any of them. Just love and beauty and friendship.
So, you had been a seamstress. Had you done any writing?
I’ve done plenty of writing. I discovered I had a gift for writing when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. And I was going to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament—this was in Shreveport, La.—and I was caught chewing gum. … So, the nun had me put the gum on my forehead and wear it around all day. And, in addition, I was supposed to go home, and we had to write lines—then they called it lines—and the lines would say, “I will not chew gum in class,” so I was supposed to write that a hundred times and bring it back. But instead, I wrote a story about a stick of gum from the factory ending up in the gutter with the soda-bottle caps and the cigarette butts. So I sent the story back the next day, and she gave me an A. So I was like, “Oh, wow.” I discovered something about myself. So I started writing.
As a child, did you miss having a doll that sort of reflected who you were? Or did you think about that as a child?
Well, I think of it now as an adult, because I was born in 1943, so we’re talking World War II, so there weren’t black dolls. And I don’t want to put that much emphasis on the fact that they’re black—only that they represent me, and I made them black. … But I think that children—if you give a child a toy, it really doesn’t matter to the child what the color of the toy is. So, as an adult, I can remember having white dolls. … But I don’t think I missed—my favorite dolls, to tell you the truth, we made from soda bottles. … I always liked using my imagination.
Have you had any feedback about the Oodles from children?
Oh, God. When I show them to children, of course they want to take them. … But primarily, I’ve had a lot of adults surprising me. As soon as they see it, they sort of attach themselves to it. I think it takes them back to their childhood.