Reading with Be’chol Lashon: Nappy Hair

Be’chol Lashon Review

Nappy Hair is a book written by Carolivia Herron and illustrated by Joe Cepeda. In the “call and response” style of African American story and song, Nappy Hair presents a character whose family helps her appreciate her curly, “nappy” hair and take pride in her African heritage.

Nappy Hair became associated with the crisis in diversity education in the United States. In 1998 the book was met with controversial accusations of racial insensitivity, when a group of parents called a white New York public school teacher racist for reading the book to her third grade class. Although the students enjoyed the book, protests broke out. The book was banned from New York classrooms. The controversy caught Herron by surprise, since she does not regard the word “nappy,” or frizzy, as pejorative.

Black hair is a contentious and highly personal topic. Whether we address its beauty and versatility or mock its propensity to stand out, the question remains: What do you do with it?

Author Carolivia Herron

In a world where a disproportionate amount of emphasis is placed on western standards of beauty, it can be hard to see yourself as beautiful when your features don’t conform to the standards elevated in the media. For young black girls, hair is often the first and most obvious difference between themselves and their peers.

Black people can have straight hair, nappy hair, kinky hair and curly hair. For those of us with afro textured hair, learning to love our ‘willful’ coils is often a process. The Natural Hair Care Movement has drastically changed the way many of us think about our hair as less of a curse and more of a source of cultural pride. Our braids, twists, locs, pin-straight tresses, and up-dos can help us tell stories of our culture. Our hair can be roadmaps to freedom, badges of honor, a form of self-expression, and a source of pride. Though our lengths, colors, textures, and styles may differ, we can find similarities in how we tell our stories.

Sharing our stories connects us to our cultures, communities, and the world. Our differences make us unique and allow us to take pride in the things we share with people in our community. While our differences might sometimes make us feel uncomfortable, they can also be what makes us proud to be who we are. When we celebrate the differences in our stories, it becomes easier to connect the similarities; giving us the skills necessary for having critical conversations about race, identity, and representation.


Discussion Questions

  1. Think of a story about your cultural heritage. How does your family celebrate your culture? What are some elements of your culture that are similar to Brenda’s? How are they different? 
  2. Think about the color and texture of your own hair. What story does your hair tell about you? What does your hair say about your culture? What makes your hair unique and different from other people’s hair? What makes your hair similar? 
  3. Think about the first time you noticed a major difference between yourself and another person. What was the difference and how did it make you feel? Did you find it challenging to embrace or celebrate the difference? Why or why no? What do we lose when we try to hide our differences? What do we gain when we embrace them?

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