The Legacy of Powerful Picture Books by bell hooks

“Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.” ~ bell hooks

bell-hooks2021 has seen the loss of beloved children’s authors including Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert. They are now joined by bell hooks (1952 – 2021), who added some wonderful picture books to the body of children’s literature. Hers are books that speak to children about community, affirmation, pride, love and personal power. Known for her thoughts on feminism, racism, and gender inequalities in society, she has been a significant political and cultural critic, and has written extensively and spoken about these important topics. She believed that the ability to read, write, think critically and communicate are essential skills, and these beliefs are conveyed beautifully in her children’s books, through powerful, poetic words that resonate like music, and images of children’s faces that are confident, accepting and hopeful. The messages in her books will continue to carry weight as readers navigate what they are learning about what can divide people and what can bring them together.  bell hooks has given a gift to children – an invitation to see the good they possess, and to show that goodness in ways that can change the world. By sharing her thoughts and using her voice, she lets children know they have the power to do this, too.

hooks, bell and Chris Raschka (1999). Happy to Be Nappy. New York: Hyperion Books for Children

bell hooks’ first children’s book is such a joyful celebration of hair – flower petal billowy,happy-to-be-nappy a halo, a crown – wonderful, glorious hair. Raschka’s watercolour washes frame and illuminate smiling faces, and showcase hair that is smooth, patted down, pulled tight or is even all over the place! Readers will see the loving hands of mothers creating many hairstyles on the heads of lovely girls – short, frizzy, plaited, brushed, fuzzy, braided – and see hair move in different ways as children sway, jump, run and dance.  Even the text, in cursive, is full of looping letters that twist and curl like flowing locks of nappy, happy, hopeful HAIR! For this first children’s book, bell hooks got nominated for an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image award, which recognizes and honors outstanding people of color in film, television, music, and literature.

“My idea of a delicious time is to read a book that is wonderful.” ~ bell hooks

hooks, bell and Chris Raschka (2002). Be Boy Buzz. New York: Hyperion Books for Children

be-boy-buzzIn fewer than one hundred words, and written in enormous text that dances and bounds with each page turn, bell hooks explores the many joys of being a boy.  Whether busy or still, loud or quiet, active or introspective, needing love or giving love – at any given moment a boy can show sides of himself that are both tough and tender.  With watercolours and simple lines, Raschka presents readers with bodies and limbs in motion – boys running, jumping, reaching and hugging.  The energy of the story is communicated through spirals, circles, arrows, zigzags and stars, but these details only serve to shine a spotlight on the different faces, expressive with tears, determination, skepticism, caution, excitement, anticipation and limitless imagination.  The perfect balance of art and free verse, this book invites readers to fall in love with being a boy.

hooks, bell and Chris Raschka (2004). Skin Again. New York: Hyperion Books for Children

A positive message of Skin Again is that we are each so much more than the colour of ourskin-again skin, and how we appear on the surface. But in order to see what’s inside, we must be open to looking past the cover. Raschka’s images of children, rendered in watercolour, gouache and collage, allows readers to see a rainbow of skin colours – all colours to be proud of, but still colours that tell only part of a person’s story. bell hooks’ words invite children to come inside that covering to discover all that is hidden within – fantasies, dreams, hopes and history. It is when we let go of preconceived notions, based on looks alone, and open our hearts to a person’s inner reality, that we can have a deeper experience of the me in me and the you in you, and be all real together on the inside. Rich with images of hearts, and hands that point, wave, reach and touch, this book has words that guide children to a deeper understanding of connecting to others, building community and caring.

“If we give our children sound self-love, they will be able to deal with whatever life puts before them.” ~ bell hooks

hooks, bell and Shane Evans (2002). Homemade Love. New York: Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children

homemade-loveThis sweet story is a testament to how the love of our parents can build a child’s esteem, give them confidence and make them bloom. Shane Evans’ bright mixed media illustrations show us how love grows in a little girl’s family, through hand-holding and hugs, kisses and cuddles, and affectionate nicknames like girlpie, sweet, and honey bun chocolate dew drop. Even when something gets broken or hurt, there is room for forgiveness and the ability to repair it, together. Life goes on, and there are endless fields of flowers for turning cartwheels and feeling boundless joy. It is knowing that love makes life sweet that allows a little girl to feel perfectly safe when she sleeps on her own, and to relive that love even as she dreams. “Memories of arms that hold me, holding me still.  No need to fear the dark place. ‘Cause everywhere is home.”

Sleep in peace, bell hooks.  Rest in power.

This entry was posted in Arts Books for Children, Curriculum in Early Childhood, Poetry, Teacher Education, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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