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Review of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
by Derrick Barnes; illus. by Gordon C. James
Primary   Millner/Bolden Books/Agate    32 pp.
10/17    978-1-57284-224-3    $17.95
e-book ed.  978-1-57284-808-5    $17.95

Brown skin, a dimpled smile, and a fresh haircut worthy of a standing ovation. Barnes takes a weekly, mundane activity for an African American boy — a trip to the barbershop — and shows its potential for boosting his self-esteem and therefore his place in the universe. The unnamed protagonist tells of his haircut from start to finish, narrating most of it in the second person, which invites all readers, regardless of ethnic background or hair texture, to witness and share in his experience. James’s color-saturated, full-page illustrations aptly capture the protagonist’s bravado, swagger, and even his humility, which he needs in accepting a post-cut kiss from his admiring mother. In the accompanying text, Barnes creatively portrays and affirms the boy’s hubris and hyperbole: he calls himself a “brilliant, blazing star” so bright that “they’re going to have to wear shades when they look up to catch your shine.” Alternately precise, metaphorical, and culturally specific, Barnes’s descriptions make each page a serendipity. In his afterword, Barnes notes that the barbershop and the church are “pretty much the only place in the black community where a boy is ‘tended to’ — treated like royalty.” A not-to-be-missed portrayal of the beauty of black boyhood.

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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