Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut’ by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

“Lookin’ great, man!”

Those three words can make you feel 10 feet tall. You want to strut when someone says you’re fly because it’s true. You are, and in “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut” by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James, you’ll see it happen.

When you walked in the door of the barber shop, you were just a kid with raggedy hair, “a lump of clay … a slab of marble,” like in an art studio, ready to be molded into someone new and fresh. You’ll barely remember all that, though, once you sit down in the chair and before you’re covered with a cape like a superhero.

What are you gonna have? Short, locs, waves, bald, a fade, what’ll it be? Whatever it is, it’s going to change your life. You might do better in school with all that confidence. You might be a star. For sure, the girls are going to love the way you look because “It frames your swagger.”

The guy on one side of you has a “faux-hawk,” and he’s checking his phone. Maybe he’s the owner of a business or somebody influential.

Guy on the other side looks “majestic.” He’s tall and proud with a big smile on his face. Nobody would mess with him. “That’s how important he looks.”

“Dude” across the room is looking at himself in a mirror, admiring what’s been done to the side of his head. He looks important, too. So does the guy with the cornrows, the man with locs, and the woman who’s just in for a quick trim. There are times when “that’s all you ever need.”

And then your time in the chair is done. A little sting of finishing product and you look great. You feel even better, like when you ace a test or your mother calls you “beautiful” because you are, to her. The cape is whisked off. You pay the man because “It was worth it. It always is” when you become your best.

As a parent or grandparent, there’s a good chance that you’ve noticed how many books about hair are for African-American women or girls.

Not this time. “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut” is absolutely for boys and young men.

Not quite with a poem, not quite with a story, author Derrick Barnes gives voice to the mythology that’s wrapped around the Black barber shop. It’s a sort of secret club, in this fictional boy’s mind, and he can’t help but see every detail as he savors it. That makes a great story but really, the tale here would the lesser without artwork from Gordon James; I read this book three times, in quick succession, just so I could appreciate its pictures again and again.

Perfect for boys ages 7 to 12, this is also sharable with any man who loves his trip to the barber. It’s inspiring, a little nostalgic, and fun to read — and for that, “Crown” is a book you should be looking for.

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