Almost immediately after Black girls are born and gain a level of awareness in regard to the world around them, they receive daily messaging that tells them that they are less than. Many begin to internalize these messages and as a result, they begin to doubt themselves and their beauty. This is the inspiration behind Curls, a children’s book by poet and author Ruth Forman, which has been dubbed an “ode to Black girls.” This week, we caught up with Ruth who shared how changing her daughter’s preschool led to the creation of Curls.
MadameNoire: I know that there’s a story behind Curls. What inspired you to write this book?
Ruth Forman: So when my daughter was a little bit older than your daughter she was in a wonderful, diverse school, and then we took her out of the school, and then we put her in a school that was less diverse. At this point, she’s like three or four, and she came home and she started to say, “Mommy, I don’t like my curly hair. Mommy, I want straight hair. I wish I had straight hair. I wish my hair was long.” Like all the things and she’s there and I just was not ready. I had no idea that it could start that young. I knew that at some point, many of us have to deal with that whole thing with hair and skin. But I just didn’t realize that she would start talking about this at three or four and I was just devastated. “Was it me? What did I do wrong?” I was sad. I felt all the things and I just got quiet and I just thought, “Okay, how are you gonna respond to this? What can you do because there are a lot of other things that started coming along with it too?” I could feel like she was feeling a little bit less than and she had a number of friends who were also expressing that same thing. And so all the moms got together and we started trading literature. One of the books that was a gamechanger was Penny and the Magic Puff Balls. That was so helpful for my daughter to see herself in literature. And I thought, “I’m a writer. I can do something. So, let me try.” I’m already a writer so I was already working on two other stories for our girls, but Curls just popped right out of my head one evening and I just thought “Yes, this is the book that I wish I had.” The whole publication process takes a long time. My daughter is much older now and she loves her curly hair. But at the time, we did not have a book like that. We needed a book like that and so I wanted to write a book like that for girls that age.
That’s beautiful. I’m so fiercely protective of my daughter’s self-image and I’m always searching for books and TV shows that help to reinforce positive self-image in Black children.
Yeah, I just didn’t know before, before being a mom that it could start so early. I wanted to just get that book in their hands as young as possible. So 0-2, to let them be reading it, let them be seeing themselves and celebrating curly hair. Older kids, too. My daughter still loves the book. She enjoyed it. We just need these books. I look at the book and I smile. It brings me joy, and that’s what I want. I want these girls to look at this and feel joy. Feel the celebration of their hair, feel their beauty and not even have it be a question.
When you wrote Curls, how did you intend for parents to use it? Was it written for bedtime or any particular time?
Oh, that’s such a great question. It should d be used however feels right and natural to each family but there are a lot of things that I was trying to build in. I wanted people to have fun reading it. I wanted the parents to feel the rhythm as they were reading the book to their child. I wanted the words to feel wonderful in our mouths as parents. “Shine big. Hair love. Soft black and brown,” like I want that to feel so lovely. Read that to a child anytime but I also wanted words to be very, very simple so that a child, as they are learning to read, those can be the kinds of words that they’re first learning.
My daughter was so proud as she was learning to read for the first time, and I was so proud watching her. This was as I was wrangling out curls and I thought, “Not only are the first images that you are seeing images that reflect you but also what if the first words are words that reinforce that self-love and self-esteem?” So I want the children as they’re just learning to read to take that book and read it to themselves. I want the littlest ones to just enjoy flipping through the pages. I think there are so many ways to enjoy the book but I also wanted to move past the parents reading it to the children and for children who are just starting to read for this to be among the words that they’re reading for the first time.
I know that Curls is part of a series of literary works. Can you tell us about the next project that is coming?
Yes, I intended for it to be a series because, girl, as soon as I was a mom, I saw what was missing in the literature. I was like, “Okay let’s, let’s fill this soon as best as possible.” So the next book is called Glow and Glow will be coming out in May and it’s about a boy celebrating his beautiful dark skin with the light of the moon. I’m so in love with Glow. If you love Curls, you’re going to love Glow just as much. Maybe even more.
Follow Ruth Forman on Instagram @ruthformanpoet.