New children's book aims to help kids deal with microaggressions about hair

A new children's book by an Edmonton author aims to help children know how to deal with racial microaggressions related to hair.

Harriet's Tremendous Day features protagonist dealing with unwanted attention

The cover for Harriet's Tremendous Day, written by NiLo and illustrated by Kyle Smith. (Submitted by NiLo)

A new children's book by an Edmonton author aims to help kids know how to deal with racial microaggressions related to hair.

It's the second in a planned trilogy of books featuring Harriet, a young Black girl with a big head of curly hair. In the previous book, she discovers what happens when she refuses to get her hair done.

This time around she's older and the issue she faces a bit more serious.

"Harriet's Humongous Hair was really born out of a story that I told to my clients time and time again," author NiLo, a natural hair specialist, said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"And the second one, Harriet's Tremendous Day, is actually the exact opposite."

In the book, Harriet gets her hair done but has to deal with her friends wanting to touch and pull it — a story NiLo's heard many times from children she's worked with who feel uncomfortable in those situations.

"I thought it was time to be able to help them start that conversation."

Creating a role model

Author NiLo, a natural hair specialist, wrote the book after hearing stories from children she worked with. (Submitted by NiLo)

NiLo said unwanted comments or touching during day-to-day life is a microaggression that can cause stress for many Black people with coily hair — and one she's dealt with as a parent.

"I did [my daughter's] hair when she was younger," she said. "She went through people touching her hair, always putting their hands in it."

There were certain styles her daughter avoided when she was younger to avoid attention, NiLo said.

NiLo (also known as Nichola Lorimer) experienced these microaggressions herself growing up in Beaumont, Alta. Other children would put pencils or spitballs in her hair and at one point someone burnt it with hairspray and a lighter.

She hopes Harriet can help children going through similar experiences, following the adage of "be who you needed as a child."

"Harriet finds her voice to be able to say, 'Don't touch my hair, please don't touch my hair,'" NiLo said. "I had never found my voice."

It's an issue of consent, she said, as a person's hair is an extension of their body. 

She hopes the children's book can also serve as a guide for teachers who might not know what is appropriate in these situations.

"Because they might not have enough interaction with racialized children and might not understand hair is like a cultural concept."

Children who haven't had similar experiences — like Harriet's friends — can also take away important lessons from the book.

"It is a way for them to understand how someone else might be feeling because … kids are not just trying to disrupt or hurt someone's feelings."

Eight-year-old Harriet is having a horrible hair day. Edmonton author NiLo wants her story to help other kids avoid her overwhelming fate. 8:00

Harriet's Tremendous Day had its book launch last week. It will be featured at We Lit Afro Indie Book Fair, which showcases a variety of Black authors and their works. This year the event will be held online on March 6.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.