Bibliography: Barnes, Derrick, and Gordon C. James. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Evanston, Illinois: Agate Bolden, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781572842243
Plot Summary: Lush oil paintings depict an unnamed African-American boy that is excited to go see the local barber. As he takes his seat, the boy imagines how people will react to his haircut and how he will feel about it himself. He also observes and admires the African-American people around him and thinks of the possibilities of how they live their lives. Ultimately, when he goes to the barber shop, he feels empowered by the end.
Critical Analysis: While we do not learn the name of our protagonist, the reader finds a young boy brimming with happy confidence. He is also the sort of person that appreciates the art and labor a barber goes into doing his and other people’s hair. Near the end. he even proclaims, “Tip that man! Tip that man! It was worth it. It always is.” The boy narrates in a stylistic way that, while it does not rhyme, it does have a lyrical quality that will make anyone enjoy using this title for a read-aloud. Children will especially get joy as you can emphasize certain words and lines. While the plot seems simple enough: a young boy enjoying his haircut, there is a deeper meaning to the story. There has been much controversy surrounding schools demanding black children to wear their hair in certain ways only. Just recently, a boy was not allowed to walk for his high school graduation unless he cut off his locs. To see a young boy be proud of his hair, and to see him admire the hair of other men and a woman, announces two things: hair can be important to identity and black hair is beautiful in all its forms. The artist depicts African-American people by giving their skin almost a dewiness, and all are smiling confidently. The artist also depicts the diversity of skin tones, body types, and ages between everyone. This is clearly a book of love and empowerment for a community.
Review Excerpt and Awards won:
Awards and Honors: 2018 John Newbery Medal (Derrick Barnes); 2018 Caldecott Honor Book (Gordon C. James); 2018 Coretta Scott King Book Award Honor (Derrick Barnes); and 2018 Coretta Scott King Book Award Honor (Gordon C. James).
Following excerpt is from Publishers Weekly, dated August 28, 2017:
“Pride, confidence, and joy radiate from the pages, both in the black and brown faces of men, women, boys, and girls featured in James’s majestic paintings, and in writing that celebrates human worth with every syllable. Barbers included…”
Connections: Use this book to run an activity that teaches children about mixing colors with oil pastels. Because this book features oil paints made in different colors such as pinks and oranges and blues to depict the varying skin tones of its characters, have the children make self-portraits where they can use any color they want, whether it is to show what color best represents them or if they want to use colors to show what they feel. This text can also be used to teach about self-esteem and to connect with other books about being proud of one’s unique appearance and personality and other traits, such as Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, and Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman.