Happy to be Nappy is a children’s book written by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka. It was originally published on September 10, 1999. The book features water colored pictures that show various forms of natural African American hair. hooks uses simple rhymes to highlight the different looks, lengths, and styles of natural hair as attempt to get young girls to happy with themselves just the way they are. The title of the book was designed to celebrate all of the kinks and “naps” that come with having natural hair.
- More about the illustrations:
According to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, “Raschka was born in Pennsylvania, as a child, Raschka loved to read and draw. Growing up in suburban Chicago, with an older brother and a younger sister, he spent a lot of time painting and playing musical instruments. His first book, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, was published in 1992, and Raschka garnered his first significant award in 1994, with a Caldecott Honor for Yo? Yes!”
- “Happy to be Nappy” about the book:
Happy to be Nappy upholds that having strong, coily, kinky, nappy hair is something to be celebrated rather than ashamed of. The book uses its illustrations to let little girls know that there is versatility to their hair, and that having natural hair is not only beautiful but fun. Each picture in the book is of a little girl who all appear to be around the same age of the child that would be reading the book. Each of them all have natural hair, but are all painted in different ways. The hairstyles resemble the real life styles that are commonly worn by African American girls. In some of the pages, there are little girls with ponytails in their hair, some only have dots to show that their hair is shorter, but still equally as beautiful. Through illustrations and text, hooks and Raschka eliminate the idea that longer, thinner, and straight hair is more favorable.
- The message:
The book states that hair can be, “a halo – a crown – a covering for heads that are round.” hooks uses terms such like “halo” and “crown” throughout the story as words of encouragement and self-love. It can also be said that the use of watercolor paintings instead of actual pictures of African American hair helps showcase the idea of fun and creativity that comes with having natural hair. While the book uses kind words and pictures to uplift young girls, they are of course too young to understand the weight that these words truly hold. The book is a stepping stone used to prepare African American girls for the truth behind why they should be proud to wear their hair naturally. There are many pressures on African Americans to “tame” their hair in order to fit in with the rest of society.
- The Impact:
The impact that this simple children’s book has on its audience is immense. It teaches young girls to love themselves and their hair just the way they are. It has been used in African American households as a teaching tool in preparation for what awaits them in the future. Society pressures African Americans to put their hair through many processes such as relaxers in order to mimic the Euro-centric idea of long, flowing hair. Happy to be Nappy was not only intended to touch the hearts and minds of young girls, it also conveys a message to the parents of those children as well. The book is catered to children, but it contains an image that people of all ages and races should hear.
In today’s society there are many other books and movements that have emerged to enforce this same idea. There are now hair products that cater specifically to the styling and upkeep of natural hair such as Shea Moisture, Cantu, and Kinky Curly. Little girls can now go to the toy aisle and find dolls that look like them and have natural hair as well. Generations now are into being natural and unapologetically black. There are have been movements started and set in place to encourage African Americans to leave the processed products behind and sport their “naps”.
- Other Resources:
Craig, Maxine Leeds. Ain’t I A Beauty Queen: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race. (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Collison, Michele N-K. It’s all Good Hair. (William Morrow Paperbacks; 1st edition, 2002)
Lilly, Deborah R. Wavy, Curly, Kinky: The African American Child’s Hair Care Guide. (Wiley; 1st edition, 2008)
Reshaé Butler is a 22 year old senior at ODU working toward obtaining her degree in fashion merchandising in Fall 2018. She originally transferred from a private school in NOVA called Marymount University. She currently works at Victoria’s Secret, and is using her time there to learn more about what it takes to be in visual merchandising. Reshaé has spent her entire life in the Hampton Roads area, outside of her one semester at MU and has plans to move much warmer climates soon after graduation.