Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit, Esau McCaulley, Illustrated by LaTonya Jackson. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022.
Summary: Pentecost Sunday means a trip with dad to Monique’s salon to get Josey’s hair braided, a new red dress, and questions about why her hair is so different from other children’s.
Josey Johnson is a beautiful black girl whose “hair has a mind of its own,” different from the straight hair other girls at school and in cartoons and videos have. It’s the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday and her dad is taking her to Monique’s salon to get her hair braided and then shopping for a red dress.
Being the exuberant girl she is, she is full of questions. “Why is her hair different?”, “Why is she different?”, “What is Pentecost?” and, when the tongues of fire came down “Were they burned?” What follows is a wonderful conversation between Josey and her father as Monique makes beautiful braids in Josey’s hair, celebrating the beautiful differences of all God’s creatures and of all human beings including Josey. And the different languages of Pentecost proclaim that the work of Jesus is for people of all languages, skin colors, and types of hair.
There are so many delights in this children’s story. Theologian Esau McCaulley weaves into the narrative rich theology of humans as God’s image bearers and the wonder of Pentecost in the proclamation of Christ for the nations. Then there is the sheer delight of a father taking his daughter to get her hair styled, joining Monique, who has “the best voice in the city,” in song at one point, and going dress shopping with his daughter. LaTonya Jackson’s vibrant illustrations are a feast for the eyes. And the concluding Pentecost celebrations struck me as the way Pentecost ought to be celebrated!
Most of all, this is a story for every child who feels “different,” affirming the “unique work of art” each one is. And every Black child will find great joy in hearing that “your black hair, Black lips, and Black skin are God’s work of art!” I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside as I read this book–and I’m a sixty-something, gray, balding white guy. I need the message of this book as well–God loves difference and Pentecost is a sign of how much he loves that difference!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.