Montreal artist creates Black plushies

Zuri and Dre are big personalities with strong ties to the social media community who celebrate what it means to be Black

Montreal artist creates Black plushies

Photo credit: Danielle Murrell Cox

Danielle Murrell Cox has had a busy year. Already an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and author, the Montrealer has added another project to her repertoire — that of toy designer.

Doodling and drawing since she was young, Murrell Cox graduated from the Graphic Design Program at Dawson College in 2011 and has spent the past decade working in the corporate world and doing freelance graphic design. She’s also honed the minimalist and simple illustrations such as those featured in her colouring books — where Black faces from around the world are interspersed with positive affirmations.

In addition to her books, Murrell Cox has recently created a line of plush toys that celebrate being unique and Black. Based on characters from her self-published colouring books Black Queens and Black Kings, Zuri and Dre are two plushies with big personalities and strong ties to the community.

Years in the making

Though officially launched in January 2021, the two plushies were born as an idea a few years ago and have had their own personalities and social media accounts for the past year. After posting an image of Zuri on her social media platforms, Murrell Cox received name suggestions and comments, picked her top two, and created a poll to pick the favourite. She repeated the process a few months later with Dre.

“They’re getting themselves out there. I say “them” as if they’re people, but they’ve kind of created their own world, or I’ve created their own world for them. They have more Twitter followers than I do,” she says.

The two plushies are something she says she wishes she’d had as a child, to have had something to relate to and that represented what a Black person looked like to her. Murrell Cox notes that while there were some black dolls available in toy stores, they were not necessarily representative. “The Black dolls that existed didn’t look like me or look like my mom,” she said. “For instance, their hair was super straight. And I was like, well, why isn’t my hair super straight?”

When she was younger, kids teased her for the colour of her skin, her lips being bigger, and for having a wider nose. “My mom was always super supportive. Always tried to encourage me, and told me I was beautiful, but it’s hard when you’re in school and people are teasing you because your skin tone is different than your mom’s,” she says.

Zuri and Dre are a reminder that it’s ok to be different and unique, and “represent young kids, who feel unnoticed, and unappreciated because of the melanin in their skin.”

Murrell Cox notes that as she’s gotten older, she’s realized how much she wished she’d had books, tv, and toys that were accurate representations of Black children and adults. “I have one of my books, the children’s board book My Hair that I signed “For me, from me”; to the kid I was when I was young.”

Toys and dolls with realistic details can make a world of difference when you’re growing up. “It helps you feel connected. It helps you feel like you belong,” Murrell Cox says. She’s also happy to see other artists and authors exposing a new generation of kids to representations of actual Black people. “It’s exciting to see, and it’s super exciting to be a part of it as well.”

Plushies available to purchase now

Zuri and Dre plushies can be purchased for $24.95 each at www.zurianddre.com and can be shipped or picked up locally in LaSalle. Educators can order the duo through the Scholastic Canada: Teacher’s Catalogue. Cox says she hopes they’ll be in bookstores and toy retailers across Canada soon, as well as in the student edition of the Scholastic catalogue.

Murrell Cox has also created the Black Queens and Black Kings colouring books that can be found at Montreal-area Indigo bookstores, is the illustrator and designer for the Big Dreamers activity book series, and is a children’s author with her 2020 HarperCollins publication My Hair.

You can follow Murrell Cox on Instagram and watch Zuri and Dre’s adventures on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

Montreal artist creates Black plushies
Photo credit: Danielle Murrell Cox