With her powerful narratives that address race, gender, class, and culture, Gloria Jean Watkins has contributed to larger conversations about social inequality and its impact on many groups, especially black women. Her published works are under the pen name “bell hooks” that she assumed in honor of Bell Blair Hooks, her maternal great-grandmother, when she began her college teaching career in the mid-1970s. A prolific writer with important messages to share, hooks released her first published work–a book of poems entitled “And There We Wept”–forty years ago under her pen name.
In 1999, hooks wrote her first book children’s book, Happy to Be Nappy. Written for ages 3 and above with a focus on those in their preschool and early elementary years, this book inspires young girls to celebrate the beauty of their hair “soft like cotton, flower petal billowy soft, full of frizz and fuzz.” Although written with a focus on African or African-American girls, the narrative encourages all readers to see the beauty within them. She offers this lyrical celebration on hair–long or short, natural, twisted, and nappy–to encourage a deeper message: Young girls should feel empowered by their ability to show their individuality. They are worthy of love and acceptance the way they are and should never diminish their true character to make themselves into something they do not want to be.
To give her story great impact, bell hooks teamed up with well-known illustrator Chris Raschka. His bold images pair perfectly with hooks’s exuberant narrative. A two-time winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal for illustrations in children’s books since the book’s original release, Raschka’s visualizations vividly portray the words hooks has written. When looking through the book, the reader appreciates the meaning that “doing hair” had for hooks as a social event in which girls laughed, shared time, told stories, and had a strong sense of comfort.
Happy to Be Nappy came out in a second edition in 2017. Re-released by Disney-Hyperion in board book form, this book returns to introduce a new generation of young girls to the importance of celebrating themselves and their individuality through the pride they should have in their hair. The narrative hooks crafted nearly twenty years ago remains vitally important today. The arrival of the second edition should be welcomed by families wanting to give their young daughters an important story, as well as by pre-schools, elementary schools, and public libraries.