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Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (Denene Millner Books) Hardcover – October 10, 2017
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Praise for Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut:
“The swagger is on a million. The sauce is drippin’. . . . This book oozes with black cool and timely, much-needed black joy, using the unique and expansive experience of the barbershop to remind young boys that their inner lives have always mattered there. One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“With language so hot you expect the words to ignite the page, Derrick Barnes endows the boy at this book’s center with flash, strut, pizzazz and the pure unregulated pride of knowing you look like a million bucks. Accompanied by layered paintings that bounce back the beat of the words like the sweetest of jazz riffs, here’s an ode to looking good and feeling great.” —Betsy Bird, NPR Book Concierge: Best Books of 2017
“Crown captures that extra bounce in your step as confidence crackles from the top of your freshly-shorn head down through your feet. With a flawless delivery, Barnes and James’ book is a celebration of self-esteem and a thoughtful nod to the importance of stepping into the world with a touch of swagger.” —The Huffington Post: Best Picture Books of 2017
“A powerfully moving tribute to barbershop culture . . . . Pride, confidence, and joy radiate from the pages, both in the black and brown faces of men, women, boys, and girls featured in Barnes’s majestic paintings, and in writing that celebrates human worth with every syllable.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“Alternately precise, metaphorical, and culturally specific, Barnes’s descriptions make each page a serendipity. . . . A not-to-be-missed portrayal of the beauty of black boyhood.” —Horn Book Magazine, starred review
“The interchange between the art and the words lights the very pages on fire. . . A long overdue title we couldn't have waited another minute for.” —School Library Journal's A Fuse #8 Production Blog
“Barnes mixes fresh and sharp lines with an integral part of the African American experience: maintaining one’s hair. Illustrator James deftly uses bright colors . . . and a colorful galaxy complements Barnes’ words well. The strong voice will resonate with readers, soothe any young child scared of their first cut, and give a boost of confidence to the seasoned pros.” —Booklist
“In this homage to Black barbershops, the author perfectly captures the meaning of this rite of passage for Black boys. And breathtaking visuals by the infinitely creative Gordon C. James match the energetic text. If the first three tomes are any indication, Denene Millner Books will continue to highlight the best talent and reads for an audience who truly deserves both.” —Essence
“Magnificent. . . . Let this young man’s strut, pizzazz, and pride show you what happens when you get a truly great haircut.” —Evanston Public Library
“I read this book three times, in quick succession, just so I could appreciate its pictures again and again.”—Houston Style Magazine
“Crown is a book you should be looking for.” —The Washington Informer
“To say that Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James knocked their first picture book out of the ballpark would be an understatement about a book with very little that is understated about it.” —KirkusReviews.com
“Rhythmic, vibrant words plus bold, oil painting illustrations give this barbershop experience a swagger of its own.” —Imagination Soup
“The perfect gift for all the fly young black boys in your life.” —Blavity.com
“A burst of energy that makes you so happy it exists.” —Mr. Brian’s Picture Book Picks
“A brilliant blend of text and illustration.” —Unpacking Picture Book Power
“A beautifully written and illustrated tribute to little black and brown boys.” —Growing Book by Book
“A book that begs to be read aloud. It begs to be shared and shared and shared.” —Abby the Librarian
About the Author
Derrick Barnes, a graduate of Jackson State University, is the author of eight books, including the popular series Ruby and the Booker Boys. He also wrote best-selling copy for Hallmark as the first African American male staff writer for the company. Barnes resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and four sons.
Gordon C. James, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, is a nationally recognized, award-winning fine artist specializing in figurative drawing. He is the illustrator of the Scraps of Time children’s book series. He has worked for Hallmark as an illustrator and artist and has taught at the University of North Carolina. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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“You come in as a lump of clay, a blank canvas, a slab of marble. But when my man is done with you, they’ll want to post you up in a museum! That my word.” But not the only word on the matter. From the minute a young black kid enters the barbershop by himself he finds himself given the full treatment. The cape, the cool shaving cream on the forehead, and the flawless line that “frames your swagger.” The kid imagines everything that’ll happen to him with this haircut. Tests aced. Girls noticing him. All the people in the shop applauding him when it’s done. Sitting next to men getting their own hair done, he imagines who they are in their own lives. He imagines who he’ll be in his own life. And when all is said and done and the barber has been tipped, he steps outside feeling “Magnificent. Flawless. Like royalty. Hello, world . . .”
Imagine if Muhammad Ali were to write a picture book but instead of using his verbal linguistics on his own magnificence he turned those words towards the child reader. I mean, I don’t even know who to really compare author Derrick Barnes to with this book. Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn’t do it better. Barnes isn’t new to this game. You might be familiar with his Ruby and the Booker Boys series or his middle school book We Could Be Brothers. I’m a little ashamed to admit that the man’s work is entirely new to me. I know this because no human being could read the words on this pages and not feel how they pop off the page like little spitting fireworks. This guy is memorable. Listen to the care and attention he pours into describing the other fellows at the barbershop getting their hair done. “There’s a dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk, deep part, skin fade. He looks presidential. Maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company that manufactures cool. He’s a boss. That’s how important he looks. Dude to the right of you looks majestic. There are thousands of black angels waiting to guide and protect him as soon as he steps a foot out that door. That’s how important he looks.” I have rarely had the experience of feeling like I wasn’t cool enough to read a picture book aloud, but this book gets me close, man. It gets me close.
But it’s not just how it says what it says but what it says. In his highly necessary Author’s Note in the back (seriously, if you read this book and skip the “Note From the Author” then you’ve just done yourself a terrible disservice) Mr. Barnes gives a little credit to his own childhood barber, working in a reference to Big Daddy Kane while he’s there. But the meat of the matter comes when he talks about what he hopes to do with this book. As he says of getting your hair cut, “It’s how we develop swagger, and when we begin to care about how we present ourselves to the world It’s also the time when most of us become privy to the conversations and company of hardworking black men from all walks of life.” Then, later, key, he writes, “And really, other than the church, the experience of getting a haircut is pretty much the only place in the black community where a black boy is ‘tended to’ – treated like royalty.” The hammer hits the nail hard with that line. I’ve written a bit about how, for all that we demand more diverse books for kids, middle grade novels starring black boys are still shockingly low (in 2017 we’re up to twelve, a number that lingers somewhere between sad and shameful). Picture books do slightly better but if you’re looking for something to bump up a boy’s self-esteem, good luck with all that. They’re out there, but they’re usually along the lines of The Adventures of Sparrowboy or something equally fantastical. The difference here is that Mr. Barnes is not afraid to plant himself in front of you and give you the 411 on exactly how awesome a boy feels after a fresh cut. This book is bold as brass and makes no bones about its intent. There’s something incredibly alluring about that. I mean, look at that kid on the cover. Have you ever seen a boy like him feeling that good about himself on a picture book cover before? You. Have. Not.
Of course we wouldn’t even have that cover without Gordon C. James. A fine artist by trade, it looks as if he might have illustrated one or two of Patricia McKissack’s Scraps of Time books about a decade ago. Now a picture book artist can illustrate a book so well that it renders mediocre text invisible, but such books tend to fade from memories quickly. In Crown Mr. James has words worthy of pairing with his skill. Thick paints adorn each page. You see those little crowns on the cover? Raise your hands if you thought of Basquiat when you saw those. Not that Mr. James is emulating Basquiat’s style or anything. Instead, he’s doing about thirty things all at once. His hero, the boy getting the haircut, needs to show his strutting self in a variety of different ways. James can’t just have him replicate the same cool-eyed look, and that’s a tricky challenge for any illustrator. Due to his style, he works with reality. There’s nothing cartoonish about what he’s doing here, but because the words demand a kind of ultra-excellence he also can’t make his art static and staid. So you’ll get a floating head in the cosmos or a starburst behind two award ribbons, even as the book makes it incredibly clear that you seeing all this through the filter of the boy’s imagination. You aren’t just getting his pride from the words but from how he sees himself and others. Be sure you notice that last two-page spread where you have to tip the book horizontally. The artist has made it clear that the last picture in this book shouldn't merely be an illustration, but a portrait. A very fitting choice. A good picture book is like a conversation between the author and the artist. This book isn’t just a mere conversation though. It’s more like jazz. What Barnes drops, James picks up, and the interchange between the art and the words lights the very pages on fire.
Now I’m a white, female, 39-year-old librarian living in the Midwest. I have never been in a barbershop of any kind, so I’m taking a lot of stuff on faith here. These guys know what they’re talking about and I’m just following behind watching how they tell it. Some professional reviews have said that this is a great book for black boys to read and that’s dead right, but let’s not go thinking that kids of every stripe wouldn’t also find it amazing. They may not get all the references or understand everything that’s going on but when you read something this lyrical and visually splendid, the art trumps personal experience.
So. Here’s the plan. First off, we’re going to make everyone with eyeballs or ears read or hear this book. Next, we bring back in print (possibly with new art) Mr. Barnes’ other books for kids. I’m talking about books with titles like Stop, Drop and Chill and Low-Down Bad-Day Blues. Next, we hire Mr. James to illustrate everything. Nursery rhymes, nonfiction picture book biographies, graphic novels, easy books, you name it. The more work we give him, the better. Then we beg both of them to make a couple more books. You think you can get away with doing one book about a kid getting a haircut and leave it at that? There is a LOT more work out there to be done, and I’m pretty sure we just located the two guys that can do it. No pressure, fellas, but to be honest you kind of brought it on yourselves when you made this magnificent book. Best of all, it gets better every time you read it. A long overdue title we couldn’t have waited another minute for.
For ages 4 and up.
""One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review." Well, I think I will add that it might be one of the best reads for ALL boys, regardless of their race or ethnicity. This book is not just a mirror for African Americans, but a window for those of other cultures to better understand the culture of the black barbershop.
There is no way I can do justice to this as a read aloud - I don't have the rhythms and cadences in my (white) voice. However, I know several students I'll be sharing this gorgeous book with immediately. I can't wait to ask them about their experiences in the barbershop and their terms for the different hair styles.
Hair terms I learned: "faux-hawk, deep part, skin fade" and "tight fade, high/low/bald."
The Kirkus review also helped me connect the crown motifs with the artwork of Basquiat. When I share this book with students, I need to show them Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe.
Note: I received a free copy of this book from the distributor at the trade show for Midwest and Great Lakes booksellers: The Heartland Fall Forum.