Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough

Cornrows (1979), written by Camille Yarbrough & illustrated by Carole Byard, was a very nice book. It’s a tribute to braids or cornrows as they’re sometimes called. The book is beautifully & simply illustrated with charcoal, and/or pencil drawings. Can I just say that I love these drawings?

Since I my mother used to braid my hair and I braid Phillise’s hair, I had to get this book. Imagine how pleased I was when I found this book. I didn’t realize it was so old until I looked at the publication date. Whew, this is old! This book was actually published when I was 9 years old. I didn’t know of too many books that had brown people who looked like me when I was younger. It was readily available, I just didn’t have access to it. I wish I would have had access to this book when I was younger.

It wasn’t a problem for me to be proud of my braids when I was younger because I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in the ’70’s, so almost everyone wore braids at one time or another. Even though my neighborhood’s a little bit more diverse, it’s the same situation with Phillise. Not to mention that I, and 5 of my 6 sisters braid our children’s hair. Danielle is just learning with Moriah, but she’s getting there.

So, needless to say, this book took me back to a time when I was little. Back to when my mother used to braid my hair. Sometimes the styles would be simple; sometimes they would be elaborate. More often than not they were simple, just like in the book. So, on to the review.

Shirley Ann, otherwise known as Sister calls Mike, her little brother, otherwise known as Brother, MeToo because he echoes everything she says. They listen to the Mama & Great-Grammaw’s stories. They love listening to the stories. Yesterday, when they went in, Great-Grammaw was fixin’ Mama’s hair in cornrows. Great-Grammaw says the braids got that name because our old folks down south planted rows of corn in the fields that looked like the rows of braids they fixed in their hair.

Sister & Brother want their hair fixed too. They also want to know the name of the style Great-Grammaw is doing, but Great-Grammaw tells them to go outside & play. Before they do though, Mama stands up and turns around in front of the mirror like she was going to dance or something. Then she bent down and kissed Sister on the head. Then she said:

I delight in tellin’ you, my child–

yes, you please me when you ask it–

it’s a hairstyle that’s called suku.

In Yoruba, it means basket.

Then Brother looks at Sister and tells her, “You gonna’ be a basket head.”

Sister asks her mother what she’s going to put in the basket. Mama says she thinks she’ll put love in it. Brother asks Great-Grammaw what she’ll put in her basket. Great-Grammaw says she’ll put love in hers too. Brother then asks if he falls down, will the love go away.

“Oh, noooo, my darlin’! she said. “Because the love, like the basket, will be a part of you.” So Sister asks her again, what kind of love would she put in her basket. To which Great-Grammaw replies, “Hand-me-down love, baby.” Of course, ole’ MeToo asks Great-Grammaw too. She gives the same answer. Then Great-Grammaw picked MeToo up and hugged him in her lap and started humming just like she does when we’re in church. She said, “An’ if you fall down, that ol’ hand-me-down love won’t go nowhere. Because it’s gonna’ be a part of you. Just like the basket I’m fixin’ to braid in ya’ hair.

The story goes on like this really sweetly. Read it for yourself and see how it ends. It’s a sweet story. This story will pique your interest whether or not you got your hair braided. Either way, this review is just in time for Chris Rock’s new movie “Good Hair.”  As always, go pick it up at your local bookstore or library.


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