Wanda the Brave

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Wanda is back... and her hair is as full, curly and beautiful as ever! In author Sihle-isipho Nontshokweni's latest picture book, Wanda the Brave, Wanda tackles another issue in her quest for others to respect her natural hair the way her family does.

In Wanda the Brave, Wanda is on her way to her Aunty Ada's hair shop to get a special hairdo. She has brought her special oils that make her hair soft, and her special wide-tooth comb that makes it easier to handle. She has also brought a picture of the exact hairstyle she wants Aunty Ada to give her. But Aunty does not like being told which comb to use and which style to do. She uses a fine-tooth comb on Wanda's hair, which is an ouch-filled disaster. As if this is not bad enough, Aunty Ada decides to smear a "relaxer" onto Wanda's scalp. It begins to burn almost immediately, but Aunty Ada refuses to wash it off. "You have to suffer a little bit for beauty," she says.

Wanda suffers indeed, but she is not the only one. Her friend Nkiruka has also come to the shop for a style, and Aunty Ada smears her hair with cream to straighten it. Both girls tell Aunty Ada the cream stings like a bee but Aunty refuses to wash it off. They beg her and even sing a song about their burning scalps, but she ignores them. Their only alternative is to ask Aunty's assistant to wash the cream out. Aunty Ada is not happy that they have taken matters into their own hands, but it is the only way they can ease the burning they are feeling.

Wanda the Brave is a touching and realistic book about the pain (and chemical burning) many black girls and women go through in order to straighten their naturally curly hair and make it more manageable. In this case, Wanda has not asked for a chemical process, she only wants a specific hairdo, but her aunt tries to take a shortcut by using chemicals. The result is that Wanda suffers and must find her voice and speak up for her rights to wear her hair the way she wants.

Like its fraternal twin, Wanda, this book is written with the sweet innocence of an elementary child learning to love herself and her hair. Artists Chantelle and Burgen Thorne offer readers wide expressive eyes, stunning coffee-colored skin, curly hair, and hot pink backgrounds. They manage to capture the distress caused by chemical burns, the joy of having chemicals rinsed out by cool water, and the greater joy when girls realize that voicing their opinions makes them stronger.

Use this book to discuss culture, natural hair, social pressure to conform, and speaking up for oneself. Enjoy!

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