Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

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by Derrick Barnes. Illustrated by Gordon C. James. Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades PreK-3.
Find this book: Amazon

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Teacher's Guide

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Here is a vivid, rich and textured celebration of self-worth. As a black boy goes to get a hair cut, the text and illustrations work wonderfully together to immerse us in the barbershop experience. You can feel and hear and smell the shop. Each page is filled to overflowing with the beautiful heads of black American men (and one woman) with a wide range of hairstyles.

The boy narrates, describing how he feels going in and how he knows he'll feel coming out. He clearly loves getting his haircut and associates it with feeling proud and empowered. He describes the other patrons in their newly cut hair with great admiration and fanciful imaginings about what kind of people they are, " . . . looks majestic. There are thousands of black angels waiting to guide and protect him . . . That's how important he looks, " and, "He looks like he owns a few acres of land on Saturn . . . He looks that important."

cover artHe uses the same power of imagination to picture himself doing really well in school and making the honor roll. Barnes and James (author and illustrator) do a wonderful job of elevating a simple experience into something that is inspiring for black boys, boys of all colors, and all of us to put our best foot forward and reach for the stars.

At its core this is a story of the magic of transformation and the power of something like a haircut to change how we feel about ourselves. From the first page, " . . . you stand at attention and forget about who you were when you walked through that door." to the last page, "Because you'll leave out of 'the shop' every single time, feeling the exact same way . . . Magnificent. Flawless. Like royalty. Hello, world . . ."

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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • Language Arts, Vocabulary: Introduce the word confidence and discuss its meaning.

  • Self-confidence: This boy feels more confident after he's had his hair cut. What if you don't like your hair or current haircut? What other things can help you feel confident, brave and optimistic? Being Praised? Finishing something you worked hard on? Helping someone else?

  • Language Arts, Metaphors,: With older students, reread the page that ends, "And sometimes in life, that's all you ever need. A crisp but subtle line." What does it mean to say it's all you need?

  • Arts and Observation: Look at the illustrations. What do you see? Notice how the paint is applied in thick, visible strokes. Notice how the illustrator uses multiple colors to portray items of a single basic color, such as the boy's face on the cover. His skin is dark brown, but James has used purple, yellow, white, blue, yellow, pink and orange, as well as brown to paint the face.

  • Language Arts, Figurative Language: The boy talks about one of the men owning land on Saturn. Do you think he really believes that? Why does he say it?
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Activities

  • Language Arts, Writing: Create your own picture book (with or without words) that tells the story of something that gives you confidence.

  • Cultures, Diversity and Language Arts, Reading: Fill your classroom with more picture books featuring African-American characters, such as these. Most importantly, enjoy them and share them. You can also look through them for more hairstyles and for other cultural content.

  • Cultures, Diversity and Language Arts, Reading: Fill the classroom with pictures books from a wide variety of U.S. and world cultures. Enjoy. Look for similarities we all share and differences that various groups bring.

  • cube bar graphMath, Graphs: Set up containers each containing one color of stacking cubes (such as didax) or legos. Attach to each container a photo of a different hairstyle (torn from magazines or printed out). Have everyone select their favorite style and take one cube (lego) from that container. If everyone then stacks their cube with other cubes of the same color, you can then line the stacks up next to each other to get a bar graph. Which style had the most votes? The least? Were the votes pretty evenly spread or were there clear winners and losers?

  • Arts, Painting: Try some paintings of your own using thick strokes of paint and multiple colors to paint your subject. More art activities.

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Related Books

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    Grades PreK - 2
    Alfie Gets in First by Shirley Hughes. Picture Book. 32 pages.
    Find this book: Amazon

    This is one of a series of books about Alfie, an irrepressible preschooler. In this book he inadvertently locks himself inside with his mother and everyone else outside the house. One by one neighbors and authorities gather outside and, on the other side, Alfie's emotions range from glee, through fear to confidence--all observable on his very expressive face, until he finally solves the problem himself. Read More.

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    Grades K - 2
    Bigmama's by Donald Crews. Picture Book. 40 pages.
    Find this book: Amazon

    Bigpapa and Bigmama both live in the white farmhouse in Cottondale, Florida where the author spent his summers as a boy, but they called it Bigmama's. When he and his family arrive the kids dash about exploring the farm checking everything. First the house and everything in it from fireplace to treadle sewing machine, then the porch, yard and outbuildings. The family's exuberance at being together is what comes through in this book as well as a picture of an African-American family's farm sixty years or so ago.

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    Grades PreK - 4
    Trombone Shorty by "Trombone Shorty" Troy Andrews. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Picture Book. 40 pages.
    Find this book: Amazon

    Growing up in the '90s in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, Troy was surrounded by music. This beautifully illustrated story follows him from making his own instruments out of household objects with his friends to becoming a world-famous musician. Along the way we get a taste of low-income New Orleans and Trombone Shorty's consuming passion for music. Great for preschool through at least fourth grade. Read More.

  • For more related books see Books Featuring African-American Black Characters for Children and Teens:
    Here are some of our favorite books featuring black Americans. Picture Books, Nonfiction, and Novels.
    http://www.carolhurst.com/subjects/africanamericancharacters.html

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