So what else is in the beautiful TV mosaic of HBO Family's children's programming schedule? Because basically, it looks like an idyllic, multi-cultural paradise. It's Zion from The Matrix minus all the Matrix part.
And the role of The Oracle is played by none other than bell hooks.
In 1999, hooks wrote her first children's book, Happy To Be Nappy. The seeming incongruity of a powerful, post-modernist, feminist social critic writing a children's book was too enticing to pass up, so I headed over to the library to see a copy of Happy To Be Nappy firsthand.
Wow, it's a poetic, fun-reading ode to the awesomeness of black girl hair. The language is fun--and also fun. It's not preachy or medicine-good-for-you; the tone is flowing and feels like it rhymes, even though it doesn't ["Hair to comb, hair to brush, to twist and plait or just lie flat."] Well, except the two spreads I photographed [Hair for hands to touch and play! Hair to take the gloom away"]
The watercolor illustrations are by Chris Raschka, who also did Charlie Parker Played Bebop and, it turns out, about a million other kids' books. They are beautiful.
Hooks and Raschka have since done two other books: SKIN AGAIN (2004) is about skins as just a covering for who we are inside; it's good, if more didactic than Nappy. Hooks' latest book, Grump Groan Growl (2008) is a short poem, really, about handling angry feelings. Raschka's huge, expressionistic illustrations really make the book a visual experience, which may help internalize hooks' spare text as a kid-size mantra ["Just go inside, just let it slide."]
Of hooks' books, only Grump Groan Growl and Homemade Love are still in print, which I don't understand at all. Still, high five to Hyperion [yes, Disney] for bringing these initially unlikely but excellent books in the first place.
As for HBO, Happy To Be Nappy and Other Stories Of Me is a TV special about how special and diverse every kid is. The celebrity names reading each story underscore HBO's ability to get anyone they want to return their calls. The fact that Mary J. Blige reads Nappy, Harvey Fierstein reads Todd Parr's It's Okay To Be Different [i.e., probably gay, just sayin'], and Rita Moreno to read Margaret y Margareta is just an adorable artifact of the times.