Hair is a political issue – even if you’re just eight

Review: Natalie Cavernelis

Wanda, by Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali, illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne (Jacana)

“Miss Bush! Miss Bush!” the boys on the bus shout at Wanda, pointing and laughing at her thick, kinky hair.

Eight-year-old Wanda is bright, strong and bold, but the relentless teasing she faces daily over her hair is wearing her down and making her miserable.

Parents of kids with hair like Wanda’s, and kids themselves, will easily identify with Wanda’s daily woes.

Wanda daydreams of having long and silky-smooth hair, “like a superhero cape”. She knows if she arrives at school with her hair loose and not tied up, her teacher will call it “a bird’s nest”.

Her natural confidence is taking a battering.

Wanda confesses to her grandmother that despite what her mom tells her, she knows she is not a queen, and she does not want her hair.

Representation matters, but even in 2019, words like “pretty”, “beautiful” and “princess” are still frequently associated with “traditional” western imagery, and for a lot of young girls that often means Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, and her platinum blonde locks.

Wanda’s grandmother shares hair secrets and stories with her and helps her regain her confidence and her pride in her hair, her crown.

The book is colourfully illustrated and well written, suitable for reading to children, or for eight-year-olds and older kids to read themselves.

My eight-year-old, whose hair is a lot like Wanda’s, enjoyed the book, and was intrigued by Wanda’s granny’s words of comfort and inspiration.

Thankfully, my daughter hasn’t had to endure the kind of bullying Wanda faced over her hair, but despite a concerted effort to remind her that her locks are as lovely as anyone else’s, regardless of colour or texture, her relationship with her crown remains uneasy, at best.

The book’s message is for children to love themselves as they are, despite what others might have to say about them.

It’s a valuable and timeless message and an especially important one for kids who may be perceived as different.

For parents, it’s also a reminder that we need to be aware of this and that we have to constantly work at building and strengthening our kids’ confidence and self-worth in the face of society’s often unrealistic and outdated expectations and perceptions.


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