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You Be Me and I’ll Be You by Pili Mandelbaum
A well intentioned father tries to help his brown-skinned biracial daughter feel comfortable with her skin color by plaiting his straight hair, donning black face and having her don white face. I was almost too insulted to continue reading but out of duty, I finished the book. The narrative attempts to redeem itself by showing people laying out on the beach tanning, using rollers to make their hair curly, and pointing out that every one wants features they can’t have. I don’t know if this did well in Belgium where it was originally published but as a U.S.American, I would never read this to my child.
Recommendation: Not Recommended.
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron
Carolivia Herron’s Nappy Hair tells the story of Brenda, a dark-skinned girl with a massive bush of kinky, untamed hair towering above her slender frame. The true protagonist in this story is Brenda’s hair, which takes on a vivacious life of its own as Brenda’s elder, Uncle Mordecai, shares with the rest of the family at a picnic the colorful and rhythmic story of how Brenda ended up with all that nappy hair. Setting this book apart from other stories that I have read that are designed to affirm positive self-image in Black children, Nappy Hair does not present the main character as having a problem with either who she is or her hair’s texture. Sure, there were other characters who express disapproval of her tightly coiled hair—namely, members of the Heavenly choir who are present during her creation. They pitied her hair to such an extent that they have the audacity to reproach God by asking:
“Why you gotta be so mean, why you gotta be so willful, why you gotta be so ornery, thinking about giving that nappy, nappy hair to that innocent little child?”
Nevertheless, even at the very beginning of the story, Brenda exudes confidence —her head is always held high, she wears a wide smile, and she refuses to allow family members to tame her maverick coils with brushes, hair spray, and broken-toothed combs.
For centuries, hair has been a sensitive issue in Black communities in the United States, and with the recent revitalization of a natural hair movement committed to the ethos of expressing black pride by embracing afros, locs, and braids in lieu of hair relaxers and other chemicals, Herron’s Nappy Hair (which was published in 1997) remains a relevant teaching tool for parents, mentors, and educators. This book presents a clever call and response narrative that may be shared with boys and girls of all races and hair types to encourage them to love how their hair naturally grows from their scalp and to encourage an appreciation for how they may be different from others but equally as beautiful. When I first read this book to my third grade class five years ago, the students laughed in derision at the title and at how Uncle Mordecai was describing Brenda’s hair. In the community where my students were growing up, “nappy” was a cruel word that connotes the polar opposite of good and beautiful; and, they would often use the term to make fun of each other. However, through a read-aloud with them, they realized Uncle Mordecai’s comments about Brenda’s hair being nappy were not derogatory at all. In fact, at the very end of his story, he proclaims:
“I got me at long last this cute little brown baby girl…And she’s got the nappiest hair in the world.”
Notably, Herron’s Nappy Hair also alludes to the profound obligation that adults have in shaping children’s self-esteem. In fact, the book conveys the message that children look to us for affirmation, reassurance, and to learn standards of beauty. Brenda was blessed with an Uncle Mordecai who spoke a life of rich heritage, strength, and beauty into her and her naturally kinky coils—a life that says you are perfect just the way you are. This book could serve as a springboard for parents and educators to engage in that same edifying dialogue with the children in their lives.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 6+ (with parental guidance to avoid misinterpretation) (buy)
Book Review by: La Tonya Jackson
Bintou’s Braids by Sylviane A. Diouf
Bintou’s Braids tells the story of a little girl who dreams of being pretty. To Bintou, this means having long, flowing braids with beads and seashells attached like those of the women in her West African village. However, in her culture, she is not allowed to wear such braids because little girls were expected to focus on play and learning instead of vanity. Throughout the story, Bintou seems to wander about on the outskirts of all the celebratory happenings in her village—primarily observing the events surrounding her brother’s baptism; but she spends a good deal of the story observing and longing to experience the fine details of the elegantly braided hairstyles that the women in her village wear. Soon, Bintou becomes central to the happenings in the village when she springs into action to save the lives of two boaters.
More than a story about hair, Bintou’s Braids shares a story about loving every step of your journey—in life and in hair. I appreciated the fact that her wise Grandma Soukeye was steadfast in ensuring that Bintou held onto her youth. Bintou did not get the hairstyle of her dreams that was promised by her aunt for being a hero, but in the end, the blue and yellow ribbons wrapped around her four hair knots with birds flowing from them made her feel like a pretty little girl—a smart and brave, pretty little girl.
Geographically, Bintou is worlds apart from little girls in the United States, but her story highlights cultural diversity as well as the fact that inasmuch as we are different we share similar concerns. Credit must also be given to Shane Evans whose artful illustrations with their golden tones and rich blues complement and enliven Bintou’s dreams and life.
Highly Recommended; Ages 6+ (The text may be a bit too wordy for younger children with shorter attention spans.) (buy)
Book Review by; La Tonya Jackson