cover image Nappy Hair

Nappy Hair

Carolivia Herron. Alfred A. Knopf, $17 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-87937-4

Based on a tape recorded at a family gathering attended by the author, this zesty book also draws inspiration from the African American tradition of call and response. At a family picnic, Uncle Mordecai serves up jibe after jibe about young Brenda's locks-""the kinkiest, the nappiest, the fuzziest, the most screwed up, squeezed up... hair you've ever seen in your life."" Each sally elicits responses from the relatives, who chime in with ""Don't cha know""; ""That's the way""; and so forth. As Uncle Mordecai continues, he describes a delegation of angels trying to talk God out of giving Brenda her wild hair; he flashes abruptly back to Africa, where Brenda is ""getting ready to come to America with them slaves."" Herron, a first-time author, captures the free-for-all atmosphere of a Sunday get-together, and the spontaneous, true-to-life quality of her writing will resonate with children and families who share Brenda's experiences. Other readers, however, could easily be left at sea, confused by the erratic progression of the narrative. To some extent, both the book design and Cepeda's (The Old Man and the Door) vibrant paintings help pull together the text's disparate strands. Skillfully varied typefaces set off the responses of different speakers and thereby convey the impression of hearing from many voices. Cepeda's stylized art picks up on the energy and exuberance of the crowd; his work also focuses on Brenda (who otherwise is not heard from), defining her character to be as strong-willed and lively as her famous hair. All ages. (Jan.)