30-Second Reviews: Books about Girls and Their Hair: شعر ميمي and ليلى تسرح شعرها

I have two boys (and a third of undetermined gender in the womb), and thus far have not given much thought to the topic of…hair.

Well, yes, my boys have it. But I never think much about their locks, except: “Oh, come on, washing it won’t kill you” with the older and “no, no, we can’t have seven baths a day” with the younger.

So books about girls and their hair are somewhat foreign territory for us. But girls are always reading books with male heroes and boys’ interests, so, I thought: Why shouldn’t we read books about long, curly hair?

The first one we came across (at a reading) was Fatima Sharafeddine’s شعر ميمي. This book—clearly one of Sharafeddine’s favorites among her work—is a tale where Mimi wants to exchange her curly hair for princess-like straight locks. Her mother won’t give in to young Mimi’s desire for a hair straightener, and Mimi goes to sleep dreaming of “princess hair.”

When, in a dream, Mimi gets her straight princess hair, she finds that her friends—and even her beloved grandfather—no longer recognize her. The story makes excellent use of repetition and anticipation (by the time we reach the grandfather, we already know he won’t recognize poor Mimi), and the children get to deduce for themselves that her hair will return to curliness in the rain.

When she awakes, she has changed her mind about شعرها الملوّى: after all, it’s her hair, and it’s part of what makes her recognizably and proudly Mimi. (And, of course, she is always her mother’s princess.)

Lovely, vivid, manga-style drawings by Rasha al-Hakim give a lot of additional information and are delightful in themselves. What’s also nice about this—and you don’t have to be a girl to enjoy it—is that we know the “real” Mimi is beneath this straight-hair impostor, just as we know the real Harry is under all that dirt in the classic Harry the Dirty Dog. Children thus can anticipate the happy future when the rain starts falling on Mimi’s hair (as we do when Harry gets in the bathtub).

Who will enjoy it: Girls and boys, although an emphasis on girls with curly hair.

Ages: 3-6. (Sharafeddine herself recommends it for readers 4-6.)

Published by: Kalimat, available where Kalimat books are sold

In Samar Taher Abdelal’s ليلى تسرح شعرها, the approach is somewhat different. Leila has wild, wonderfully curly hair. The tale begins with a happy wild-haired Leila chasing a happy cat. But:

ليلى فتاه مرحه و لطيفة، شعرها بني مموج، لكن هنأك مشكلة مغيرة، فليلى لا تسرح شعرها.

It’s not just hair-brushing Leila loathes, it’s (as my older son) also baths. When her mother asks why she’s crying, Leila says that her hair bothers her, and her mother (sensibly) replies that this is because she doesn’t brush it regularly.

Then, when a party’s coming up at school, Leila’s teacher tells her:

صوف تقام غدا بالمدرسة حفلة … قلت المعلمة لليلة: أعملي في شعرك صغيرة وربطها بشرائط حمراء جميلة.

Leila thinks it over and decides to bathe and have her hair brushed (my younger son loved the picture in the bathtub, which is fun). The brushing clearly hurt, and Leila had to grit her teeth to bear it. Youch.

Leila is pleased at the show, and decides that from now on she wants to brush her hair and keep it tidy.

Of course, most of us agree that children should take baths and comb their hair, and that girls’ wild, curly hair has to be dealt with in some manner or another (barettes? hair ties?). But my older son thought Leila looked happier (and like more fun) in the first frame, before she underwent her hair-taming procedures.

Also, the story slides from beginning to end very quickly, without much for the child-reader to hang onto. We move from wild hair to straight without really encountering a problem (except the mother’s and teacher’s mild suggestions), and without Leila triumphing over anything.

Who will enjoy it: I see this as more of a book for parents trying to get their tomboyish girls to bathe and comb their hair. (Look! Leila likes it!)

Ages: Again, probably 3-6.

Published by: Nahdet Masr, available at Kotob Khan and elsewhere around Cairo.

Abdelal’s ليلى ترتب غرفتها is more successful (and perhaps easier to relate to, for the boys) in that we see the problem for ourselves (Leila’s crazy-messy room) and we can anticipate that it will bring disaster on disaster (her mother falls on a toy! Leila trips and splashes juice all over her friends’ clothing!). There are also some fun moments in the language, like:

ليلى دخلت بالعصير
لكنها تعثرت بالالعب
و وقع كل الشراب
على ملابس الأصحاب

(Also, Leila gets to keep her wild hair, which pleased my older son.) But for such a sparkplug character like Leila, who looks like she must be wild, strong-willed fun, I thought perhaps there could be a splash of humor, or some way in which Leila gets to hold onto her special something while also giving in and, yes, cleaning up her room.

Who will enjoy this: Certainly parents who want their children to clean their rooms; children will also appreciate the disaster (like the mother stepping on a remote-controlled car and the juice flying into mid-air) and the resolution.

Ages: 3-6

Published by: Nahdet Masr, available at Kotob Khan and elsewhere around Cairo.

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