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For All the Puffy Haired People: New Children's Book Battles Backlash over African American Hair

Angered over numerous news reports of African American children being subjected to institutional and public bullying over their natural hair, author and performer Aya de León wrote the new book ‘Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity’. A celebration of diversity, the image collection has a simple, sweet message for children: you are beautiful – just the way you are.


Berkeley, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 03/17/2014 -- In September of 2013, seven-year-old Tiana Parker, a straight-A student, was sent home from her Tulsa, Oklahoma Charter School. Her offense? Having “faddish hair”.

Tiana wears her hair in dreadlocks, and that day she wore them with a big pink bow at the top. Interviewed afterward by a local TV station, Tiana was in tears, unable to understand how school officials would forbid her from attending their school with natural hair.

To author and performer Aya de León, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As a mom to an active preschooler and someone who was working, teaching and writing a ‘sexy heist’ novel, de León hardly had the time to eat, let alone get involved with Tiana’s plight.

“Racism is rarely convenient,” says de León. “It tends to rear its ugly head when you’re just getting on with your life. After hearing about little Tiana Parker and other African American girls who had been singled out, bullied and ridiculed for having natural hair – well, I was furious, and I knew I needed to do something.”

Enter ‘Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity’, de León’s joyous, colorful and inclusive new children’s book that offers positive images of children, teens and families for African American children and other puffy-haired kids. Putting out the call for photographs on MyBrownBaby.com, Mutha Magazine and her own social media accounts, de León asked for images of, “spiraling tresses, yearning to breathe free” and received them in spades, gathering over one hundred photo submissions.

While most of the images in the book are of African Americans, the book also features Jewish, Latina/o, Arab and Asian people with puffy hair, as well as many different types of families and people with disabilities. de León was determined that children who read the book would recognize themselves in the pictures.

“It’s a celebration,” she says. “It’s the opposite of what these kids face each day from the wider world. I want them to find themselves within the pages of the book and know – they are not just ‘acceptable’ and ‘tolerated’ – they are wonderful, beautiful and lovable.” The book’s back cover features 12-year-old Honor Society student Vanessa VanDyke who fought back when she was threatened with expulsion from school for her hair. Vanessa says, “it’s puffy and I like it that way.”


Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity is a children’s book of text and photographs featuring kids, teens, adults, and families with naturally puffy hair. Writer/performer/educator Aya de León put out a call for photos. Individuals and families from far and wide submitted pictures that reflect the pride, wonder, and delight that so many people feel in having hair that defies gravity. We live in a world that works to subdue the natural exuberance of children in a myriad of ways, and this includes attempts to subdue their hair. The Puffy Hair Project is a celebration of the authentic, untamed self as expressed through our hair. The selection of photos primarily reflects people of the African diaspora, and it includes people of Asian, Latina/o, Arab, and Jewish heritage, as well. It is designed to provide puffy-haired kids with positive images, and to provide all of us with an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful diversity of our world. The text is inspired by the simple yet memorable style of Dr. Seuss: "Puffy here. Puffy there. Yay! I love my puffy hair.”

Since its release, the book has earned glowing reviews.

"This is a great book for children and their friends of all ages. It has a classic form, lyrical rhythms, and wonderful photographs that reflect a great variety of the puffy-haired. A much-needed addition to any and all libraries,” said Paci Hammond, Elementary School Librarian

Calling for more “puffy power!” dMarie wrote: “Nice book for curly headed kids. Supports the idea that everybody has different types of hair and that everybody has beautiful hair. My curly haired granddaughter had been teased in preschool for super curly hair. This book is sweet and supportive.”

‘Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity’ is available now from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1f6viuQ, and CreateSpace: http://bit.ly/1aXRhVx

About Aya de León
Children's book author Aya de León is a writer/performer for adults working in poetry, fiction, and hip hop theater. Her work has received acclaim in the Village Voice, Washington Post, SF Chronicle, SF Bay Guardian, American Theatre Magazine, and has been featured on Def Poetry, in Essence Magazine, and various anthologies and journals. Her literary agent will be shopping her sexy feminist heist novel to publishing houses later this season. Aya is the Director of June Jordan's Poetry for the People program, teaching poetry, spoken word, and hip hop at UC Berkeley. You can find her at http://ayadeleon.wordpress.com or on twitter @ayadeleon. You can find more info on this project at http://puffyhairproject.wordpress.com.