Our natural hair journey, and the books that celebrate it

A discussion about this past weekend’s Curl Fest, in Brooklyn, led to us – Library Intern Chloe Pinkney and Scholastic Librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey – reflecting on our own experiences having natural hair. We both experimented for years before settling in to our current styles. While we have two different looks - shoulder length curls and locs adorned with hair jewelry - we have many of the same routines and products, as well as an interest in books that show the beauty of natural hair.

Check out some highlights of our conversation and our recommendations for books that celebrate curls:

Chloe:  Growing up, I wanted long straight hair like many of my friends had. I begged my mother every year to let me relax my hair, finally when I was ten my mom allowed me to get a perm. From then on I would spend hours every weekend at the salon getting my hair washed and set, putting chemical, upon chemical on my young scalp. Once it was time for middle school I had had it. I drastically cut all my hair off, which still to this day I can’t believe I did.

Deimosa: I can’t believe you did that either! But then you did have your mother’s short hair style as a reference point. You had a sense of what it would look like. How long did you have short hair?

Chloe: From 6th grade to 7th grade my hair went from some tiny, kinky curls on top of my head to a full blown Angela Davis afro. But by the summer before I started high school I was done with the retro look and was ready for something new. I decided on a middle ground between a fully natural afro and pin straight relaxed hair. Using a texturizer made it manageable, giving me a curly bob. Eventually as my hair grew more and more and I continued to cut it every few months until the texturized hair grew out, and a new texture had formed.

Deimosa: Interesting… my mother wouldn’t let me relax my hair for a long time either. I figured out how to French braid, flat iron and cornrow my own hair, and I practiced on my four little sisters. My mom had a rule though; if I put braids in my sisters’ hair I also had to take them out. I finally convinced her to let me straighten my hair with chemicals in 10th grade, but I never got into the beauty shop culture. I bought box relaxers to do my hair and my sisters’, and once I got to college I started to relax my close friends’ hair as well. Then junior year I took a class called ‘Black Womanhood in Culture and Society’, and by the end of the course I was set on natural hair. I pulled it back into an afro-poof in my early twenties, and then after a few years I started locking it. However, I still avoid beauty salons. I don’t mind the hours I spend on a ‘hair day’ twisting and braiding while binge watching TV and doing laundry.

Chloe: Going from having my hair relaxed to natural has actually given me new found joy. Every night I carve out a good thirty minutes, counting the time in and out of the shower, to do my hair. The act of conditioning it, and then adding all the sweet smelling crèmes, allows me to take time out of my day to do something nice for myself. Messaging my scalp and scrunching my curls are a form of self-love after a long day. Another thing that I love is the community that natural hair fosters; I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of friends and family members who choose to wear their hair natural. Being able to turn to my friend, who lives right next to me at school, and ask for her advice on different ways to style my hair, and having my aunt supply free hair products, provides me with a network of people who understand and support my hair journey.

Deimosa: It has been a journey, and right now most of my sisters and friends are wearing their hair natural also, so I hear what you are saying about the community that forms. I have gotten into conversations on my commute, actually, with total strangers about our hair! Someone will ask what product I use to twist my locs (gel, with aloe but no alcohol) and by the end of our interaction I am emailing them links to videos on natural hair maintenance. When I think about it as a librarian, I am basically getting and answering reference questions about locs. Which leads us to the book list that you put together… what informed your choices?

Chloe: Through my own hair journey, I have always looked for representations of girls and women with natural hair. I started to think back to books that I read as a child, and I could only think of one or two books about girls with “nappy” or natural hair. I was sure that with more black women going natural, that there must be many more books out now on this topic.  I was very pleased to find that there were many more books available that talk about natural hair, as well as the Happy to be Nappy book that I remember reading as a kid. Check out these books for children who are starting their own hair journey:

  • Big Hair, Don’t Care, by Crystal Swain-Bates and Megan Bair: Lola loves her big hair and all of the different ways that it can be styled
  • Hair Like Mine, by LaTashia M. Perry and Bea Jackson: a little girl appreciates her hair and what is special about it
  • Happy Hair, by Mechal Renee Roe: shows a variety of beautiful hair styles
  • Happy to be Nappy, by bell hooks and Chris Raschka: an NAACP Image Award winning book
  • I Like Myself! , by Karen Beaumont and Davis Catrow: fun with equally fun and funny illustrations
  • I Love My Hair!, by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and E.B. Lewis: shows quality time between mother and daughter while hair is combed and braided
  • Maggie Sinclair, Will You Please Fix Your Hair?, by Hilary Grand Dixon and Gabrielle Howell: Maggie uses creative styles to satisfy her grandma’s request that she ‘fix’ her hair
  • Wild, Wild Hair, by Nikki Grimes and George Ford: every Monday Tisa’s mother combs and braids her hair into twenty plaits

Deimosa: That is a pretty good list of picture books. I just want to add a few novels that I love. These three books have hair braiding scenes that really hit home when I read them the first time:

  • Patina, by Jason Reynolds: Patina braids her little sisters’ hair on Sundays, carefully adorning it with beads held in place with aluminum foil
  • Piecing Me Together, by Renée Watson: Jade and her mentor have a bonding moment when Maxine helps her unbraid and comb out her hair
  • Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older: the scene where Sierra’s friend Bennie braids her hair while they talk, and think quietly, takes me back… to last weekend - I'm looking forward to Shadowhouse Fall, which comes out in September

We both love our curls, and working on this gave us the opportunity to share advice on products and maintenance – not just between us, but also with some of the guys here. It turns out that, in The Scholastic Library, we are community of coconut oil and Shea butter fans!

Add our recommendations to your collection, and share them next time you are exchanging hair tips or settling in to braid or twist for a few hours.