Hello there readers! February is a month to celebrate love. Last week I reviewed a book about desegregation that helps to teach kids to love others in their community. This week I bring you a book that emphasizes community love along with the theme of loving oneself. Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia, written and illustrated by Laura Lacámara with a Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura, is the story of a young Cuban girl with remarkable hair.
The book was selected by School Library Journal as one of the top ten Latino books of 2014.
Here is an excerpt from Kirkus:
One magical morning, Dalia awakes to find her hair has grown up toward the sky, “tall and thick as a Cuban royal palm tree.” Throughout the day, to the shock of her neighbors, Dalia covers her wondrous hair with natural material from the environment around her in order to do something truly special, making for an imaginative story. She stuffs and squishes wild tamarind, coontie leaves and mud into her hair, turning it into a butterfly garden overnight….A bilingual author’s note provides further information about the plants and animals referenced and presents instructions for creating one’s own butterfly garden.
The story builds suspense as the reader is guided through Dalia’s day as she takes her wondrous hair and sets off on a mission to do “Something Big” with it. She begins by entering the forest and adding natural elements into her hair. As her hair grows and gets messier, she repeatedly runs back to show her mother, asking her to guess what kind of tree she is. Along the way she encounters different plants, animals, unamused neighbors, and other surprises.
That night, her mother tries to get her to wash out her messy hair , but, at Dalia’s insistence, allows her to keep it in one more night. The next day Dalia runs outside to the garden, calling the attention of her community. Everyone watches as her hair starts moving. Suddenly, a butterfly wriggles its way out and opens its wings. Dalia’s mom exclaims “You are my beautiful, blossoming BUTTERFLY TREE!”As the community rejoices and plans a celebration in honor of Dalia and her wondrous hair, the garden soon fills with butterflies, creating an inviting image that practically transports the reader to the lush Caribbean setting.
Aside from its whimsical appeal, the book will resonate with readers on many levels. On a straightforward basis, children might appreciate Dalia’s mischievous behavior or the loving, mutually respectful relationship she shares with her mother. In deeper ways, the book benefits young readers culturally, linguistically, and personally.
Culturally, the book is a great tool for introducing Cuban biodiversity. Cuban-born Lacámara’s beautiful depictions of flora and fauna are all drawn from her homeland, and she provides a corresponding glossary at the end to explain more about them.
Linguistically, both Spanish- and English-speaking students will gain much from exploring the carefully-crafted and lighthearted bilingual text.
Perhaps most important of all, however, is the personal message this book sends: all of us are beautiful. It’s an amazing affirmation of self-love, particularly for young readers of color. Dalia’s self-confident celebration of herself unfortunately stands out as rare and precious at a time when US society as a whole is only beginning to discuss the dearth of positive representations of people of color (whether in mainstream media, where the conversation has surfaced in response to the Oscars or in publication, where We Need Diverse Books has tackled the publishing industry). Young readers of color, particularly young women, deserve to hear this powerful message.
But let us remember that just because the book will have particular importance for young women of color, it should be embraced by all. Young readers who are not of color will benefit, too, from seeing these positive representations – both on a personal level as well as in a broader societal scope.
And as though all of these benefits weren’t sufficient to entice, the book is just downright beautiful and imaginative. Lacámara’s highly vibrant and saturated illustrations are impressive. She shows the characters from diverse perspectives and angles, which makes them seem to be in perpetual motion and conveys a whimsical feel that guides readers through Dalia’s mission. I would go so far as to say this book belongs on a shelf of illustrated magical realism for children.
We suspect that the SLJ’s recommendation is only the first of many acclaims this book will receive. We can’t recommend it highly enough for the home and the classroom. To check out the author and her other works, visit her website.
Finally, here are a couple of interesting resources related to the book:
- A great review from Latin@S in Kid Lit that includes great teaching tips and ideas for incorporating the book into the classroom.
- A phone interview with Lacámara in which she reads from and talks about Dalia’s Wondrous Hair. Her portion of the interview starts at the halfway point, approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll present a book that expresses love of family!
Images: Modified from: Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia. Illustrator: Laura Lacámara