Our public image today spans age, wealth, profession and interests with icons such as Black-ish’s Yara Shahidi, Chicago’s own yoga and wellness guru Lauren Ash and straight-forward and no-nonsense Senator, Maxine Waters.
Even so, many parents raising Black girls do not rely on media to make an impression on their children.
Multicultural books and literature are a common frontline approach for educators and families alike, to validate the lived experiences and cultures of non-white folks.
Think Marley Diaz—the 10-year-old Black girl, who, at the time was “tired of reading about white boys and their dogs.”
Her disinterest led her to create her now famous campaign, #1000BlackGirlBooks and now there is a surge in the scholarly interest of representations of Black girls in kid’s lit.
It’s important to note however, that just because a book a cute picture of a Black girl on the front of it, doesn’t mean it’s quality—by all means, it could be quite the opposite.
As reviewer for a national publication of children’s literature, I see absolutely outrageous and culturally inaccurate and insensitive books on a weekly basis but one book that I recently reviewed really struck a hard chord.
In hopes to keep the Black community informed, especially as we work towards educating and uplifting our young girls, I want to share this review with you all, in hopes that you get a glimpse into some of the hurtful and demeaning messages that are cleverly embedded into the colorful and fun looking books that catch our kids’ eyes.
Natalie’s Hair is Wild-Laura Freeman
Natalie’s hair is large and in charge. Paired with her bright African print clothes, she is the gleaming image of a carefree Black girl. In fact, there isn’t a comb, scrunchie, barrette or bobby clip that can “tame” or “restrain” her natural mane. So when a bird takes up residence in her hair, it’s no big deal. But soon, the pages are filled with the black cloud-like fuzz of Natalie’s growing hair as the birds are joined by a frog, owl, and a host of other creatures—even a lion. It’s not until the noisy animals keep her from sleeping that she finally decides something must be done. With the help of the fire department and local zoo, the creatures are captured and Natalie’s hair is hosed down—it was that big a job. Many garden shears and rakes later, we join Natalie back at home, happy with fresh cornrowed braids and this lesson learned: “the hair on your head, is no place for a zoo.” This title is the first authored book of Laura Freeman, illustrator of the early chapter series Nikki and Deja. A fair-skinned and loose curled African-American woman, she notes that, like Natalie, she too grew up “wild-haired.” However, Natalie is brown-skinned with a kinky hair texture—her Blackness not as palatable as Freeman’s. It is highly unlikely that should Freeman have portrayed a girl reflected in her own image, that the resolution to her problem would be cornrows and a warning to maintain personal hygiene from the local firemen turned hairdressers. While the vibrantly textured digital art is appealing, don’t be fooled—the accompanying text lacks flow and is mediocre and didactic at best. Perhaps if Natalie were depicted in the likeness of her illustrator this might have been silly and fun with no real implications, this book effectively works to undo much of self-reclamation work that Black women have done to combat the stigmatization of kinky Black hair. If you’re really looking for great hair stories featuring Black girls, skip this title and check out Crystal Swain-Bates’ Big Hair, Don’t Care! Or Natasha Anastasia Tarpley’s I Love My Hair! MK