"I just got back from America," my 2-and-a-half-year-old tells me as she struts across the living room. "That's why I have braids." Um, okay. Then I remembered that we recently checked-out Bintou's Braids from the library and that one of the girls in the book is from America. Ah, now it's all coming together.
Bintou's Braids is a beautiful story of a young girl with a strong personality and vivid imagination, growing up in a West African village. Bintou is unhappy with her hair in "four little tufts" and longs for the exquisite braids that adorn all the young women.
The braids of the young women are enlivened with beads, seashells, and coins. They are are shiny, they make beautiful music when a woman shakes her head. They embody everything that is the essence of womanhood, everything that a young girl dreams of being. And Bintou is a dreamer. What makes this story remarkable is that Bintou learns to find the beauty in herself without ever knowing the privilege of wearing the braids. Although she saves the lives of her cousins and asks for the braids as her reward, she is still just a child. Her moment of growth in the story is not when she gets to wear braids for the first time, but when she learns that she is an amazing young girl, on the inside, unique and special in and of herself. There is no need for the flashy display of this beauty to others. She shines from within.
Bintou's Braids is probably my favourite hair book to date. It is richly illustrated in both culture and art, and has caused me to reflect upon the choices I have made for my own daughter. There is a lesson in this story, not just for the daughter who may, for example, want to have her hair straightened, but to the mother who has to make the choice as to when (or if) she will allow her child to make those decisions on her own. I applaud the way Bintou's grandmother handles the situation. She holds fast to tradition, finding a way to help Bintou see her beauty without giving in to her desire for braids. I can only pray that I will be able to handle Boo with such wisdom and grace when the time comes.