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Why is my hair curly? Asks a tween daughter to her mother, because the others in the family don’t. Lakshmi Iyer’s book Why Is My Hair Curly? addresses this conundrum.
I will start with a confession – Lakshmi is a friend and we have known each other for several years now. We bonded as adoptive parents and became friends who know that the other had their back. I have cheered on her behalf when she knew about the book deal. Now, knowing her work only from her blog, I had no idea what to expect when the e-version of her book was sent to me to review.
It took just 5 pages before I got drawn into the story and forgot much else, immersed into the experience.
As a teacher, I do an activity for writing. It involves packing a suitcase and part of the lesson is picking a few items. One of the pictures we show is a railway ticket and ID card. Most of our students, middle class backgrounds most of the time, can’t figure out how to travel without a passport. Many haven’t seen a railway ticket, sometimes because parents handle it, but in many other cases, because they haven’t travelled as much by train.
So when the first chapter threw me back into the quintessential train journey, one that I have made many times in summer, back from the village with grandparents, it wasn’t hard to live it vicariously.
The book uses many Indian words, so many familiar South Indian ones – high time Indian fiction had this representation south of the Vindhyas (or a part of Tamil culture, at least)! The narrative does a good job of explaining it in the body of the book, making it a seamless experience for all kids, Indian or international. In another version, a glossary would be a good addition.
Avnish and Avantika are siblings leaving for Chennai after the summer in their grandmother’s and uncle’s home in Coimbatore. Their cousins, who also joined them for the holidays, start calling Avantika ‘Medusa’, a button that gets pushed because it is a sore point for the frizzy haired girl.
Avnish and Avantika were adopted, a fact that is mentioned with the right level of attention, in my opinion. Lakshmi, an adoptive mom herself, knows this stuff and talks about it without making it the only central point.
The book does a great job of touching upon points that are important without dwelling on them ad nauseum.
For example, there’s how Avantika thinks about her birth mother when she is frustrated with something unrelated in her every day life. Or how their aunt never liked them from the beginning. Most adoptive families have a mix of relatives and friends, the book covers this non-judgmentally.
The book uses Avantika’s diary to tell the story along with dialogues describing the plot. The book addresses issues related to appearance – the ‘grass is greener’ debate between curly and straight hair, the fight between convenience and wanting long hair, the morning skirmishes to get read for school with hair needing to be styled to school regulation…as expected for a book with a title like Why Is My Hair Curly? The book also explores Avantika’s tryst with identity formation, her wondering how much of her hair is from her genetic family and her need to know more about them.
A working mother means children who can make their own breakfast, what’s not to love about independent kids?!
Lakshmi has done a good job of weaving regular life into the plot, talking of all events that are likely in a child’s life from the back to school excitement of wrapping new notebooks to meeting friends and finding out who would be in which section.
Avantika’s mother’s side of the family is mysterious. Her mother never talks about them and looks sad when anyone mentions them. Who is the strange woman with curls who befriends Avantika in the park? Why do they start writing letters to each other? Do the gifts she gives have any special meaning? You should read the book to find out.
Niloufer Wadia’s illustrations deserve special mention. Not only do they do the needful in terms of explaining the details from the book, she adds a patina of emotion that makes every illustration one to go back to.
The way the book has been interpreted visually is a delight, with much empathy and joy. They bounce and verve of Avantika pop off the page. The book is both Indian and international, showcasing the universality of the human experience.
The one quibble I have with this book is at the end where Avantika says that she was maybe ‘wrong’ in linking up something (no spoilers) with her biological mother.
Children with adoption in their lives make meaning of their identity in many ways, one of which is building a fairy tale around who their birth family might be. Many children might do this too but for an adopted person, there’s an additional layer to this imagined reality. To have a child thinking something is ‘wrong’ doesn’t sit well with me, in general and then not here. Since Lakshmi’s intent comes across clearly to keep adoption as one undeniable facet of life but only one piece of the whole puzzle, this quibble stays a minor rumble in my mind.
A slim chapter book for kids between 9 – 12 years, this book is a treasure for every library at school and at home. It is a fantastic read aloud book for parents and children to get into the diverse areas mentioned in it. This is the rare book that mentions adoption but is a general must-read book for everyone. Adoptive parents should definitely grab this off the shelves for their tweens.
I am now waiting for the next book, one that takes Avnish through his tweenhood (and beyond, dare I hope?) and explores his take of the world. Hint, hint!
If you would like to pick up a copy of Why Is My Hair Curly? by Lakshmi Iyer, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: pixabay, book cover Amazon
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Sangitha Krishnamurthi is a special educator, blogger and mother of three. Her interests include living
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