The author and mother of two celebrates black hair — and bonnets — in her new picture book

By Sam Gillette
April 10, 2020 02:40 PM
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Some picture books celebrate children going to bed with their blankets. Others show little boys and girls cuddling up with their teddy bears.

But author and mother of two Nancy Redd became frustrated when she couldn’t find any kids’ books about another nighttime tradition: Putting her daughter’s hair up in a bonnet before bed.

In response to the lack of educational resources, Redd wrote her own children’s book, Bedtime Bonnet, which is illustrated by Nneka Myers. The book, which released on Tuesday, follows a little girl, who has fun wrapping her hair before bed — just like the rest of her family.

“I hope [parents and kids] will get the joy of a facet of black culture that is ubiquitous and comforting,” Redd, 38, tells PEOPLE. She shares daughter Nancy, 5, and son August, 8, with husband Rupak Ginn, 37. “Because when I get home, and my bra comes off, and my bonnet comes on, I’m just ready to enjoy the rest of my day.”

For many black families across the U.S. and the world, putting on a silk bonnet, a headscarf or a durag is part of a nightly routine. Like other aspects of black culture, head wraps and durags have been cast in a negative light and stereotyped in American culture. But, like she’s done with her books Body Drama and Pregnancy, OMG!, Redd wants to dismantle society’s misconceptions. When Rihanna wore the first durag on the cover of British Vogue‘s March 2020 issue, journalist Funmi Fetto interviewed Redd as part of the cover story.

“A durag on the red carpet is more than just a fashion choice,” Redd told the magazine. “It’s a statement of black pride from the wearer who is utilizing their influence to celebrate a facet of our culture that has either been ignored or unfairly denigrated by mainstream stereotypes.”

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While people celebrated Rihanna’s choice to wear a durag on the cover of an international fashion magazine, Redd’s daughter Nancy wasn’t thrilled to wrap her hair at first.

“My husband was not well-versed on the fact that he needed to know how to do his daughter’s hair,” Redd remembers of a trip she took two years ago. “So I went away for three days, and I came back, and her hair was so tangled. It was the biggest mess. I didn’t know what to do.”

Redd took Nancy, who was 3 at the time, to her mom’s house in Virginia to get her daughter’s hair brushed out.

“I go to my mom’s, and that hair was tough. So she was combing it out and she just looked at me. She’s like, ‘This child needs a bonnet,'” Redd recalls. “I said, ‘She won’t wear the bonnet,’ Because her cartoon characters didn’t wear bonnets. She didn’t see children wearing bonnets … She was like, ‘How is this pertaining to me?’ ”

After Redd created Bedtime Bonnet and read the book to Nancy, the author hasn’t had to fight with her to wear a bonnet.

“Every night, I do just like my mom did. Every night, I scooched between my mama’s legs, and she combed and brushed my hair. She braided it and put my little scarf on … I went to sleep, and I woke up with great hair,” says Redd. “[Nancy] knows now. If she wants her hair to look its best, the bonnet is part of it. Therefore, she has a love-love relationship [with her bonnet]. Because she sees the love of the people in the book, and it’s teaching her to love this part of herself. There’s no shame.”

Nancy Redd in her silk bonnet
Ren Scott

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Growing up, Redd didn’t feel the same joy about wearing her bonnet — at least, not if someone saw her.

“It’s one of those things that inside my house I was thrilled. We’re chilling, right? [But when] the doorbell rang, whoop, that bonnet got flipped off,” she says. “It was just like, ‘Okay, this is something that we do, but we aren’t necessarily proud of it outside of the house.’ ”

Redd continues: “It’s 2020. We don’t have time for any of that anymore. I don’t want my children or any other child to be remotely embarrassed about any aspect of themselves. Because that’s how you end up with a loss of power — by feeling that you have to be ashamed or uncomfortable about something that is an integral part of your life. I need my eyeglasses to see. I should not be ashamed about wearing my eyeglasses. That’s the correlation.”

The author, always conscious of inclusivity, made a point to include a variety of hair types in the book. She also shows the protagonist’s father and brother participating in the nighttime tradition.

“It’s very important to note a lot of little boys also wear bonnets if they have long hair, or a durag, like the little boy with the locs [in the book],” she says. “It’s just shameful how there are not enough black men in children’s books. And so I was very adamant. I wanted to make sure that the father figure was very involved.”

Redd also made sure her mother was involved in the project. The mother in Bedtime Bonnet was inspired by Redd’s mom, Amanda Redd, who was born in 1940 in Virginia.

“My mom grew up in segregation. You didn’t have dark-skinned women on book covers,” says Redd.

“She’s 80 years old, and so with everything I’ve ever done, her first reaction is, ‘Are they going to let you do that? Can you do that?’ ” the author continues. “She’s always amazed. When I showed her the cover of the book, it was an epiphany that she could be on the cover.”

The author’s daughter and mother
Nancy Redd

With her mom’s blessing, Redd is excited to share Bedtime Bonnet with others.

“I’m excited because my daughter went from being like, ‘Bonnets? My cartoon characters don’t wear a bonnet. Why would I wear a bonnet?’ To drawing bonnet fan art,” Redd says. “She’s so inspired by Nneka. She also wants to be an artist.”

She adds: “It’s very sweet. That’s the thing. That’s what representation is. When you see yourself, the world is possible.”

Bedtime Bonnet is published by Random House Books for Young Readers and is on sale now.