Editor's note: This segment was rebroadcast on Feb. 11, 2022. Find that audio here.
Poet Ruth Forman remembers her daughter coming home from preschool one day and saying something shocking. The young girl said that she wished she had straighter hair and lighter skin.
This hurtful moment with her daughter led Forman to publish “Curls,” a poetry board book for Black children that encouraged them to embrace their identity, last December. The book includes colorful illustrations by Geneva Bowers.
Writing the book involved a number of elements, especially considering it was for children. The words would need to be simple. The book itself would need to be short, too, to keep the children’s attention and be a good read for bedtime. As a poet, Forman also considered how the words would fit together in terms of rhyme, meter and pacing.
When her daughter first started this conversation years ago, Forman called on family and friends to send books that celebrated Black hair and skin.
“I knew literature was important before. But I really realized how important literature was when we read her those books,” she says. “And within two months, that was it.”
Today, controversy still surrounds Black and Brown hair. Recently at the Tokyo Olympics, soul caps — swimming caps designed for curly hair — were banned by the International Swimming Federation.
Forman says she’s taking news like that one step at a time and working to do her part to ensure people like her daughter understand that their hair is normal hair. That message is clear in “Curls.”
"Morning, mirror. Smile, shine. Big hair, love. Up soft, black, brown. Thick curl, sun crown, smooth grease? Yes, please! Sweet braids, beads, sway. Sit, no, never, ever, Always free, like me."-Ruth Forman
“I just want to try to equip my daughter and the children in this generation as much as possible with that sense of self-love, self-worth, knowing who they are so that when these things do come, it will not harm them in the way that I think it's harmed many generations,” Forman says.
In May, Forman and Bowers teamed up again to release “Glow,” a poetry book for Black boys. The response Forman receives from readers proves the book is serving its purpose.
“I get a lot of stories of the boys saying, ‘That's me, that's me, that's my friend, that's me,’ ” she says. “I hear that they ask for the book every night.”
While writing “Glow,” Forman wanted Brown boys reading the book to have a feeling of safety, love and belonging — not just from family, but also in the world around them.
Both stories provide a way for Black and Brown children to see themselves. It’s like a protection, Forman says, that they can feel proud of how they look and not question who they are at a young age.
The books are important for Black, Brown and white children to read, just in different ways, Forman adds. It’s important for a white children to see Black and Brown children happy and smiling. But it’s important also for Black and Brown children to be proud of themselves.
“As a child, I remember experiences that made me feel loved and protected by the natural world,” she says. “I wanted to put that in the book as well.”
This segment aired on July 28, 2021.