As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
This book struck just the right chord with its timely message. When I was carrying my child, I had strangers who felt like they could just touch my stomach without permission, only to be affronted when I politely told them no. However, I do think this story went a bit far with the woman in the park yelling for people to chase Aria—just to feel her hair. Pure hyperbole.
Don’t Touch My Hair! opens with a close-up of Aria’s face and her magnificent mane. In this age where many black girls seem to want straight hair, I’m glad she is happy with her curly locks; she is comfortable in her own skin and with her natural hair (body-positivity isn’t just about size, btw). Little girls of all ethnic backgrounds will enjoy looking at the different styles in which Aria wears her hair.
The narrative about having to row out to a deserted island, go underwater or outer space, or to fantasyland was also hyperbolic, though kids are often over-dramatic (i.e. something is never just far but a million miles away); however, this portion would’ve been better had Aria been shown dealing with handsy people at the grocery store, library, school, etc..
I generally hate speech bubbles (I’m not a comic book fan, as this requires your child to have to look at the pictures; I like for them to have the option to close their eyes and just listen) and might have put the book down had part of the story not been told in narrative first-person through Aria.
The art works. As the author noted in the back, I love that she made Aria’s hair the star, using a different process to give it texture, which really made it pop. The bright illustrations matched Aria’s bold personality. A lot of children in children’s books don’t have much of one, but Aria owns this!
One of my favorite pages was the spread with all the houses lined up and the people going about their daily tasks, showing that Aria isn’t an island but part of a community; these illustrations reminded me of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.
The cover was perfect with the border of hands (belonging to people in different shades of the DNA spectrum) reaching for Aria, which would make anyone claustrophobic.
It’s interesting that the story doesn’t show Aria’s parents (or teacher, etc.) giving her guidance on how to handle a hairy situation (pun intended) but rather shows her figuring it out by doing some reflecting (on a mythical island, red planet, swimming with the mermaids, etc.) where she comes to the conclusion that she is the one who gives the yay or nay on whether someone can touch her hair and that it’s okay to say no to some people and yes to others. That it’s her choice.
In this age of redefining consent–which is not the absence of a no but the presence of a yes.
This book shows that no doesn’t have to be confrontational. Girls need to grow up feeling comfortable to say no–to men and women.
Another point is that some people will still try to touch something, even if it’s just covered up. What’s more, not everything we show is for touch–just for looks. Modesty is another issue, but you shouldn’t have to cover up to keep from being unmolested.
This book would make a great teaching tool—for girls and boys—in this new age of a heightened awareness of consent.
Suggested activity: Teach your child to respect the boundaries of others (and to not be afraid to ask that their boundaries be respected). Teach them that it’s okay if someone says no, that they shouldn’t be afraid of saying no, and that a please will not always get you a yes. This book can also be used to talk about touching things in general, such as art in a museum, other people’s property, and even dangerous things. You could even discuss the power of touch and how King Midas used that power that brought about both desirous and disastrous consequences.