Some of the sweetest picture books I’ve ever read are about a little one waiting for the arrival of a new sibling. These books help a child know what to expect when the new baby arrives. In the books, they learn that new babies don’t talk and they don’t play. They sleep a lot, and cry a lot, and make lots of smelly diapers. And they take lots of mommy’s time. By encountering these unpleasant facts in a book, the child is better prepared for the reality of a new sibling in the house.
Love is in the Hair is about a child waiting for the arrival of her new baby sister. But it’s very different from the usual stories abut new siblings. There’s nothing in it about what the new baby will be like, or how the big sister can help, or any of the other things that you’d expect in this kind of story. Instead, Syrus Marcus Ware, the author and illustrator, uses the occasion to talk about memory, and families, and love.
Throughout Love is in the Hair, Ware explores what we remember and how we remember it. He looks at the kinds of stories that family members tell, and how those stories affect our memories, and our feelings about those memories. He also touches on the inconsistency of memories, and on the constancy and durability of love.
Memories and stories and magic
Love is in the Hair begins with Carter, a young Black girl, waking up in the middle of the night. She’s four years old. Her parents are at the hospital having a baby. Her Uncle Marcus and Uncle Jeff are staying with her. She’s too excited to sleep, so she wakes up her uncles. Because, of course, if you’re four years old, and you can’t sleep, every adult in the house should be awake, too.
Uncle Jeff goes to the kitchen to get Carter some warm milk, and Uncle Marcus walks her back to her bedroom. He sits down on the edge of Carter’s bed to tell her stories until she falls asleep.
Carter loves her uncle’s hair. He has dreadlocks that are so long that he has to move them out of the way when he sits down. His hair is “full of beads, fabric, shells and jewels, memories and stories and magic.” Carter wants to hear the stories about the beautiful things woven into Uncle Marcus’s hair.
So those are the stories that her Uncle Marcus tells her.
They are all stories about love.
The stories in the hair
The first story Uncle Marcus tells starts with a handmade glass bead full of all the colors of the rainbow. Uncle Marcus saw that bead on the day that Carter was born, and he knew right away that the bead would remind him of Carter forever. So he bought that bead, and wove it into his hair. (That story is, of course, Carter’s favorite.)
A metal bead is from the music festival where Uncle Marcus met Uncle Jeff, long before Carter’s parents had ever met each other. Uncle Jeff was selling beads and bracelets and such. Uncle Marcus remembers that he bought the bead. When Uncle Jeff comes in with the warm milk, he says he remembers it differently. The warmth and love is the same, though, even with the different memories.
The third story that Uncle Marcus tells Carter is about the day he and Uncle Jeff decided to be a family.
By then, Carter is sleepy. Uncle Marcus kisses the top of her head, and suggests that she dream about her favorite memory, and what she remembers it by.
And Carter drifts off to sleep, dreaming of herself holding a little baby, with a two-toned ribbon in her hair. I’d read the book several times before I noticed that the fabric in the ribbon matches her uncles’ pajamas.
Your child might not notice that detail right away, either. But it wraps up the story beautifully.
Embracing the entire family
One of things that I find particularly appealing about Love is in the Hair is the way that love and acceptance flow through Carter’s extended family. I have always believed that children benefit from having many loving adults in their lives. Adding the love of grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends to the love of the parents provides the child with more stability and a stronger sense of belonging. These beloved adults help the child know that they are valuable and lovable. In Love is in the Hair, Carter is secure in the knowledge that she is loved, not only by her parents, but by her uncles as well. The warmth of her relationship with them suffuses the book.
This book can be hard to find, and second-hand copies are often outrageously expensive. Try Glad Day Books, or your favorite independent bookstore.
The Great Big Book of Families: This book lets you introduce your child to the ways that all families are the same, and the ways that every family is different.
St. John the Theologian and the Mother of God: It’s no wonder that St. John was ready to follow Jesus. According to Orthodox tradition, he was the grandson of St. Joseph. That means that Mary was his foster grandmother, and Jesus was his uncle.
How to love strangers: Reflections on philoxenia: Philoxenia, hospitality, the love of strangers. It’s not optional for Christians. But it’s not easy, either. Here are some thoughts about ways to get started.