Nappy Hair Review

Nappy Hair
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There's nothing like reading a good controversial book before beddy-bye. I decided to check out the infamous "Nappy Hair", once considered so damaging by so few (and yet so vocal). So I flipped through it. Then I read it once. Then I read it twice. Then I tried turning it upside down and reading it from back to front because I just couldn't see how anyone could raise a ruckus over such a great little old story. The fact of the matter is, ladies and gentlemen, that this is a great book. A fun to read tale of accepting one's own self despite physical aspects that some members of society might not approve of. In short, having nappy hair.
Now the book opens with the family's Uncle Mordecai telling a tale. The whole book is, in fact, in Uncle Mordecai's voice and as he speaks about little Brenda, her nappyness, and the nature of African American hair itself, his family is getting ready to sit down to a summer picnic of hot dogs, side dishes, and pie. In his story, Mordecai talks about the very essence of Brenda's hair. How hard it is to untangle, the sound it makes when you try, and who Brenda is herself. He then suddenly lauches headlong (despite the repeated groans and moans of his extended family) into telling how God himself proclaimed this hair to be as it is. We do not, for the record, see God. We just hear Him as He states that this child will have at least eight complete circles in her hair per inch (a line that I love). As a result, here is a girl that avoids the straighteners, the relaxers, and the processes that would render her hair flat and dull. The book even goes so far as to explain about Africa and how this hair came straight over the slave ships and, "wouldn't stop for nothing". And then here we have her. A girl that can dance, "right on through all the wimp hair". She's proud of her hair of her head and her life. The final parting shot sees her standing with all her family, smiling at the viewer, perfectly content with who she is and what she has.
Now I haven't a clue how one goes about reading this book to groups and for a very simple reason. The book is written as a kind of call and response. Uncle Mordecai will make a statement like, "And I'm gonna tell y'all how she came up with all this nappy hair", and the various relatives will reply, "Brother, will you stop". The entire book is like this. A line or two by Mordecai, then a reply that's sometimes short and sometimes a little longer. How do you read that? Some people might have relatively little problem with the words and the stanzas. Others would definitely struggle. Should you intend to read this book for your child, sit down and go through it a couple times first. Get a feeling for the ebb and flow of the language because until you feel comfortable with what you're reading, you're not going to be able to convincingly persuade your child that this beautiful style is worth their listening.
Complimenting Carolivia Herron's words are Joe Cepeda's illustrations. The book is full of interesting details and delicate touches. Notice, if you will, that the angels that argue with the Lord that the child should not have nappy hair are, in fact, members of the girl's family. Take some time to observe how well Cepeda draws the single strand of Brenda's hair. Or, my personal favorite, the image of a girl with nappy hair sitting in Africa staring at the shocking orange sky. As she sits she is bedecked in a glorious green woven cloth, her neck, wrists, and ankles decorated. It's a moment of reflection, for both the character and the reader. It is also, in many ways, the quintessential climax of the tale.
So as you can see, this is a rare rare book. You won't find many like it in your schools, libraries, and bookstores. It's difficult to write a story about being proud about something that society, as a whole, may sniff at. I think Herron and Cepeda did the best that they could and that no human being could have said what they said better. "Nappy Hair" is a beautiful success story of a book.

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