Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry,
illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Review Copy from Kokila Books
Zuri is the narrator of Hair Love, a story about her hair and how it helps her to express herself and even define herself sometimes. Her hair can even send a message to a special someone. Zuri's hair has "a mind of its own. It kinks, coils and curls every which way," But she loves her hair because it, "lets me be me!" Knowing that her Daddy is worn out from making breakfast, taking Zuri to school, going to work, picking her up and playing with her in the park, she decides to try to get that special hair style on her own. Taking the tablet into the bathroom, she does what any kid today would do (I absolutely LOVE that this is the first time I am seeing this now everyday occurrence in a picture book!) and puts on a how-to video. But, the tablet slips and the sound wakes Daddy up, and he comes to the rescue. Sort of.
Zuri and Daddy go through more than a few unsuccessful attempts, with tears and a hair-tie-related injury before giving the video tutorial another try. With her hair perfected and her cape on, Zuri is more than ready when that special someone comes through the front door! A suitcase trailing behind her and a bright yellow wrap on her head, Mommy tells Zuri that she is, "the prettiest supergirl I have ever seen!" Zuri gets the first hug, but when Mommy learns that Daddy is responsible for the perfect hair, he gets a big hug, too. The final page of the book shows the family of three, all with different hairstyles, unhappy cat (with a pink bow in its fur) in Zuri's arms, taking a selfie with the tablet with Zuri exclaiming, "My hair is Mommy, Daddy and me. It's hair love!"
Cherry's Hair Love began life as a Kickstarter campaign to bring it to life as an animated short. Happily, Hair Love, the film, has been optioned by Sony and will be coming to screens later this year. Hair Love the book, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, best known for her Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History books, brings Zuri and her hair to life in a style that feels akin to animation. Zuri's determination and disappointment are palpable, as is the love that exists between Zuri and her Daddy have and the family as a whole. As a white woman, I don't know what it means or what the challenges and joys are of having Black hair. And honestly, I felt really challenged when writing this review. Yes, this is a book about a father fixing his daughter's hair, but I know it's also so much more - culturally, socially, politically. How much do I talk about? How much can I, as a white woman, talk about authentically? I feel more comfortable writing reviews of books that feature Latinx characters because, while I am not Latinx, Latinx culture IS integral to life in Southern California, where I grew up and live, and where I spend five days a week immersed in (and always working to learn more about) a population of students that is almost 100% Latinx. 8 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Black Women's Hair at The Mashup Americans, a podcast, newsletter and website guide to hyphen-America, was especially helpful in giving me a background and context with which to appreciate this book on more than a superficial level.
I think that my experience reading and thinking about how to review Hair Love is a goal the founders of Kokila, a new publisher dedicated to diversity, not just on the page, but in the creators and publishers, are shooting for. As Vice President and Publisher Namrata Tripathi says, Kokila was,"born out of the optimism and frustration I felt about the conversations around diversity and representation in children's literature." The purpose of Kokila is to, "holistically address the three major ways in which we talk about diversity in our field: 1) on the page, 2) in the creators, and 3) in the gatekeepers and staff." The books are written, illustrated, edited, designed and published, in the context of an inclusive community, by people from the margins of the world of kid's books. While I have no doubt that there are many black girls, fathers, daughters, mothers and families across the world who will connect with Hair Love, I'm grateful to Cherry, Harrison and the people at Kokila for giving me the opportunity to learn and grown and connect in a time when our country seems to be increasingly divided.