This book is fashioned after the call-and-response form of storytelling created by the slaves in the 1800s. Brenda, a young black girl, has VERY kinky hair, and her Uncle Mordecai comments on it. He compares it to many things (the desert, snow), then asks if she’s ashamed. She says no, she’s beautiful, and the only girl who knows how to talk right (in the King’s English). She talks about how she got her hair from God because He wanted nappy hair on earth, how her ancestors had hair like that and came over with slavery, and that God says her hair is the only perfect circle in nature.
The book sets itself apart from other children’s books because of its form: the call and response. As Carolivia Herron explains on her website :
“The Nappy Hair story is like a praise song from West Africa. In a praise song the poet or "griot" (say 'gree-oh') praises the chief or leader of the people. Although the song is supposed to be all praise, sometimes the griot tries to find a way to tell the chief how to improve.”
Uncle Mordecai is the griot in Nappy Hair and the audience’s response is indicated by its bolder typeface and paragraph indentation. This form lends itself well to being read out loud, especially in dialogue form, but conversely is not as successful when it isn’t spoken.
The history of this book has been surrounded by controversy. In September of 1998, Ruth Sherman, a white 3rd grade teacher at P.S. 75 in Brooklyn, New York, decided to teach the book Nappy Hair to her students. Her lesson endeavored to teach racial tolerance and acceptance to her mostly Black and Hispanic students. The students loved the book, and eagerly asked for more copies of the book to carry around. Ms. Sherman made copies of different pages in the book, which were discovered two months later by a parent. The parent was offended by the material, and began distributing pages from the book with demeaning racial commentary about Ms. Sherman in the margin. This event snowballed into more and more outrage in the community, until the school board was forced to hold an inquiry about the lesson plan. Ms. Sherman was found innocent of all wrongdoing, but was afraid for her safety and transferred to another school. Carolivia Herron fully supported Sherman’s use of the book in her classroom, saying that it was consistent with the message of affirmation of unique black characteristics that she was trying to accomplish in the book. For news articles about the controversy, visit Carolivia Herron’s website page about the controversy or adversity.net’s website about the book
Nappy Hair was published two years prior to Happy to Be Nappy by bell hooks, and the two books are often compared due to similar subject matter. For comparison, Happy to Be Nappy is also analyzed on this website.
Adapted from Carolivia Herron’s website
Dr. Carolivia Herron
has recently left her position as an English Professor at California State University,
Chico. She currently lives in Washington, DC where she is writing fiction, pursuing
scholarship, developing multimedia online educational products, establishing
writing clubs in Washington, DC public schools, and teaching periodic specialty
courses in universities. Herron is also on leave in order to continue a speaking
tour related to her controversial book, Nappy Hair and to introduce her multimedia
educational programs to schools and communities nationwide.
Carolivia Herron has spent most of her professorial career at Harvard University as a professor and as a Visiting Scholar (African American Studies, Comparative Literature, Divinity School, School of Education, Electronic Education.) Herron has also held professorial appointments at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and California State University, Chico. She has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, Hebrew College of Brookline, Massachusetts, Carlton College, the Marien N’Guabi University of Congo, Brazzaville, and several universities in the Republic of Congo.
Adapted from Houghton Mifflin Educational Place
Joe Cepeda, initially an engineering student, returned to college to study art and has published illustrations for magazines as well as for children's books. He is an East Los Angeles, California native.
From the Random House website
On the Origins of Nappy Hair
"Nappy Hair is a true story. I am little Brenda. Uncle Mordecai is my Uncle Richard. Different members of my family contributed different parts of the story. It’s a group poem, a group story. My mother’s line is 'It’s your hair, Brenda, take the cake and come back and get the plate.' My brother thinks my hair sounds like snow, with two inches of crunchy crust on top. Think of that sound of a foot coming down on crunchy snow. My brother can actually make the sound! I recorded the story on tape, dropping out some parts and adding and editing, but the basic story was recorded."
On Call and Response
"Nappy Hair is written entirely in African American call and response. I read this story aloud when I speak to educators because many people look at the text and don’t realize what’s going on. As you look at the pages you’ll see that there’s a line in standard type followed by a line in different type. The standard type is spoken by the storyteller, and that’s the call. The indented lines in different type are there to give the impression of people answering back, and that is the response."
"This story from my student is the story of every child–it is a story of self-esteem: One of my students read Nappy Hair to her 4-year-old, white, blond, blue-eyed niece and her niece said, 'That little girl is just like me!' 'How so?' asked her aunt. 'That little girl has Nappy Hair that will never be straight and I have really straight hair that will never be curly–and mommy keeps telling me that she loves my hair and God loves my hair. We’re just alike.'" - Carolivia Herron
Hardcover – January 1997 by Knopf
Paperback – December 1998 by Dragonfly Books (Random House)
From Carolivia Herron’s website http://www.carolivia.org/nappyhair/projects.html
http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=0679894454&view=tg (3/4th the way down the page, under Teaching Ideas)