Picture Book Review: Hair With Flair by Audrey O. Hinds

Hair With Flair written by Audrey O. Hinds, illustrated by Hatice Bayramgolu

From GoodReads: Samantha’s big day had finally arrived. It was time to wow her audience with the best art they had ever seen. It was an exciting time for her to show all the people she loved how hard she had been working to impress them with the gift of her art. She had thought of everything right down to her nail polish, but in all the chaos leading up to her big show she forgot one very important detail – her hair.

As her art show begins, Samantha realizes her hair is completely untamable, but the show must go on, right? As the story goes on, Samantha finally embraces what the rest of the world had already seen, her most magnificent artwork of all – her hair with flair! 

So I’m going to preface this with, I read Hair With Flair to my almost eight year old and she really enjoyed it. As a kid whose hair looks like a rat might be living in it and for better or worse as she becomes more aware of her appearance, she can relate to having hair that can suddenly feel less than perfect.

Hair With Flair is a really cute story about Samantha who has organized an art show for her friends. She has set up her room with her drawings and paintings, set a time, sent invites, and is now waiting for everyone to show up. Except something in the back of her mind is keeps telling her she’s forgotten something. As her guests start trickling in she realizes she has forgotten to style her hair. Uncomfortable at first, Samantha realizes her hair is beautiful exactly as it comes out of her head and that it is an artistic expression of who she is. We loved that Samantha took great pride in both her art and herself and that her friends celebrated who she was and her artistic accomplishments. It’s an all around lovely story of pride in yourself and your work celebrated by your friends.

Something about the illustrations, maybe the colors or the setting, reminds me of the Lego Friends sets. One of those characters is an artist and creator. If you have kids in your class or library or home that love Lego Friends, give this book a try. The bright colors and fun story would make this a good title to read aloud at storytime.

Going back to what I prefaced this review with, as a white parent reading this book I felt a little odd about the focus on appearance over the content of the art show. But I recognize that this is my daughter’s privilege to be able to go out in public and be a mess and no one looks askance at her. She’s just a hippie child, nothing more. I know that hair is a huge deal for black folks (kids and adults alike). I mean, for Pete’s sake, we just had a law passed in 2019 that “allows” Black folks hair to grow out of their heads as it does naturally. So the fact that Samantha is worried about her hair and then comes to embrace it is HUGE. It also means that while the book can be enjoyed by white kids and families, it’s not necessarily meant for us.

Pair this with Melanin Origins phenomenal Barber Chop and their biography Louisiana Belle: A Snippet in the Life of Madam CJ Walker. As far as stocking this on your shelves, in libraries and classrooms and homes, hair and hair care is frequently a big deal with kids of all kinds and Hair With Flair should absolutely be added to collections that have books on grooming (fiction and nonfiction). If you have fashionistas in your audience, you should also make sure you purchase this title. And if you have any kids of color that need their hair and their appearance validated, absolutely be sure to include this book on your shelves. Until we don’t have to pass absurd laws about Black folks hair, we need all the books about celebrating and embracing Black kids hair that we can get.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

I’m not the fucking book police

Recently a few colleagues have come to me wanting me to limit types of books kids can check out (in particular I Spy, Where’s Waldo and Elephant and Piggie books). In lieu of these I’m supposed to push them into chapter books. And while I was gracious and conciliatory I didn’t give them a definite “yes, I will do that”. Because I’m not the fucking book police.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about helping kids find all kinds of books they like. From chapter books to picture books, from non fiction to fiction, from classics to new releases. The way I see it our kids come to library NOT to learn how to read, but to learn to want to read. One factor in this is that the other librarian is, by training and practice, a reading specialist. She has no other library experience and has in no way been immersed in library culture. That’s not a bad thing. Quite the contrary, she’s an incredible teacher and she knows her stuff. Plus she doesn’t get mired down in some of the library crap there is. The kids like her and she gets books in their hands. But it does mean she sees the library as the place to teach reading, not literacy. She has the same end goal as I do, life-long readers, but our approaches are vastly different.

Here’s why I refuse to become the book police:

Making reading a chore, something where you are told to choose something else or handed a book by the teacher with little to no input from you, does not make life-long readers. It makes kids who don’t want to read. It makes reading feel like something they have to do. Or worse yet, something they need to pretend to do to get the grade, make the teacher happy, or get by. I don’t want to teach kids to dissemble. I want them to love to read.

Moreover, limiting and saying no to their choices invalidates those kids. They like those books. That’s why, of their own volition, that have sought them out on the shelf and brought them to me (or the self-checkout station) to check out. They have sat down with them and started reading them. WITH ABSOLUTELY NO INTERVENTION OR ENTICEMENT on my part. None. Far be it from me to tell them they shouldn’t like that. Or that their choices suck. They probably think that about the books I choose to read. Every book its reader, right?

Also, what if a student is choosing a particular book because they see themself in it? When we tell them it’s not good enough, we invalidate that child. And let’s face it, the large majority of books that are deemed “good” and “worthwhile” are white, middle to upper class, heteronormative, with a traditional family structure. Even in my very wealthy private school these books reflect a small part of our population.

Policing kids reading also underestimates motivation. My colleagues don’t just want me telling kids they can’t read books that are “too easy”. I’m also supposed to stop kids from reading books that are “too hard”. Kids are really good at self censoring, both when it comes to content and when it comes to difficulty. I don’t want to tell the kid who loves mythology he shouldn’t be reading Percy Jackson if it’s a stretch. Especially if he really wants to. That desire is going to do a lot more for advancing his ability to read and his success than me giving him a book he’s not interested in. One thing I do do when kids bring books that are really hard is tell them it’s okay to put it down and come back to it or ask a parent to help them read it.

I have been that reluctant, struggling reader. That was me. And guess what? I learned to pretend to read the book that was handed to me by my parents and my teachers. There was stuff I wanted to read (god awful crap, looking back as an adult), but I was told it wasn’t good enough and that it I shouldn’t want to read it. The result? I read a total of 5 books for pleasure between high school and the start of graduate school. Five books in in ten years. Five books. Ten years. That’s not what we want for our students, is it? And let’s face it, the kids I’m supposed to get all book nazi on are the reluctant readers. The weak readers. Forcing them into books they haven’t chosen will do exactly this. Actually I probably read so many books in those ten years because my parents were readers and it was part of the family culture.

What happened in graduate school, you ask, that made me start reading again? Oh, just that it was library school and I was suddenly given permission to read all the YA, MG, and Kidlit I wanted. And no one batted an eye. It was “for work” and “for school”. Except I love that stuff. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! I wish I could just read all day. Sometimes I do. Oops. I found myself as a reader. I found what I love (most things, especially if they are for younger audiences) and what I don’t like (adult fiction about sad women in bad marriages, tedious and dry nonfiction). And that’s (one of) my goals in the library- to help kids find themselves as readers. I can’t do that if I’m the one selecting their books for them. That’s them learning they don’t know themselves and I do. Which is completely false.

Sure, I’m happy to do reader’s advisory with them. I will make all kinds of suggestions and ask them questions. I may even put a book in their hand and say “try it”. But when I do that I tell them my feelings won’t be hurt if they try it and hate it or even if they don’t want to try it. My ego isn’t on the line. I know they like what they like and I like what I like. It’s not up to me to make that call for them and when they make it, it’s not a rejection of me. Just the book they didn’t like.

It’s not like these kids don’t get other practice or support reading. They’re in library for an hour a week. They are in their classrooms five days a week for 6 hours. In those classrooms the teachers are reading aloud to them and having them read aloud. Choosing books that will both challenge and help them. They have books that are precisely where their reading level is. They read these several times a week. They practice reading directions, math boxes, words on the board, spelling books, and worksheets (ugh). The classroom is where reading instruction takes place. Where they look at phonics and mechanics. That’s why librarians don’t take classes on the mechanics of reading. It’s not usually part of their curriculum. It certainly isn’t in our school, nor does it need to be.

So, to the kids in third grade who want to check out a Where’s Waldo and Elephant and Piggie, to the kids in second who want to check out three Elephant and Piggie, to the kids who want all picture books, to the kid reading graphic novels and comics, to the kids who want the thickest book in the library, to the kid who reads ten books a day: do it! You go! I love those books too. I’ve read them. I haven’t read them. I hate them. What I think doesn’t matter. What you think is the only thing that matters. You are reading. Good for you! Keep going!

Quick update

Just wanted to let anyone reading my blog know that I am turning comments off for awhile. I am getting the most ridiculous amount of spam comments. We’re talking hundreds a day. The best part is, these aren’t a few sentences with a bunch of links. These are essay length comments. It’s insane.  Not only is it taking me forever to delete them I am also having to delete them out of my inbox. Sigh. I think blogs without the ability to comment are generally pretty silly since the point of being online is to generate discussion and collaboration, but I am not interested in collaborating with ljkdsf@hotmail.com. Thanks for your patience while I figure the situation out.

Hope the summer is going well. I am reading like crazy around here and haven’t taken the time to post.