Telling the story of the love between a father and a daughter and the little girl’s sometimes difficult relationship with her hair that “kinks, coils and curls”, this book is a celebration of black identity and hair as an expression of black culture.
The author also made a moving film that won an Academy Award for the best animated short film in 2020. During the acceptance speech, both Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver stressed that representation matters, especially in animated films, which are often what children watch first, and that they wanted to normalise black hair.
In the story, Zuri wants her hair to be perfect for her mother’s return home but struggles to style it herself. When her father joins her in her efforts, the two of them work as a team and persevere until Zuri’s hair looks just the way she wanted.
There are many things the children may want to discuss regarding personal and cultural identities and the importance of personal appearance. You could talk about who decides what is beautiful in our society and question gender stereotypes too, for example, “Are there certain hair styles that are accepted for girls but not boys and vice versa? Why is this?” From a STEM perspective, this book is a wonderful example of an everyday thing that most children – and adults too – may not have considered worthy of scientific exploration: hair!
Some questions will quite naturally follow on from a discussion of the story: How does your hair make you feel? How is it different when you wake up in the morning? Does your hair have a mind of its own? Does it do magic tricks like Zuri’s? Her hair goes from large to small in the rain. Is that really magic or can this be explained by science? What happens to your hair when it gets wet? Do you use a pick, comb or brush for your hair? What do they do? Does your hair look and feel different after you’ve brushed it? Do you use any products in your hair? How do they change your hair?
The children can collect some of their hair from a brush and bring it in to examine. Maybe you have a microscope or magnifying glasses they can use to look at the hair. How long is it? Can they pull it to make it longer? Can they pull it apart? How strong is the hair? Can they use it to lift or pull things?
The children can also observe their own and their friends’ hair in different situations. How does light affect the colour of their hair? Does it seem to be a different colour if you shine a torch at it? What about sunlight? Does the colour change when the hair is wet?
With our book recommendations, we want to spark an interest in children to discover STEM in their everyday lives. Most books go beyond the obvious STEM connections and can be a great starting point for exploring children’s questions and ideas further.
Learn more: Book a STEM workshop.
Article author: Kerstin Johnson
Content Editor & Resources Developer
With many years’ experience developing educational materials for print and online publishing, Kerstin aims to use her editing and writing skills to produce engaging and user-friendly content across all our platforms.