Santa Claus in Dreadlocks: Rachel Isadora’s Textured Children’s Books

Princesses with braids, princes with shaved heads donning Kufi hats, and Santa Claus in dreadlocks: this is the textured world of Rachel Isadora’s children’s books.

During a decade of living in Africa, Rachel Isadora was inspired to create fairytales retold in African settings. She has received the famed Caldecott Honor for her stunning illustrations that bring familiar classics to life in new ways. She doesn’t write children’s books specifically about black hair and black identity like Nappy Hair, I Love My Hair, or An Enchanted Hair Tale. Her multiple retellings of classic fairytales, however, help to address the lack of presence of cultural and racial difference in publications of children’s fairytales. And, my daughter absolutely loves them!

Isadora’s latest undertaking is a timely The Night Before Christmas, a retelling of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Like Isadora’s other books, this Christmas favorite is recast in an African setting and features a slightly darker skinned Santa Claus rocking dreadlocks. The words to the classic Christmas poem remain the same, but the new setting and the refashioned Santa adds a new layer to the old, well-loved poem.

More interested in fairytales? Then check out Isadora’s retelling of The Princess and the Pea. In the story, the Prince greets three princesses in three different African languages: “Selam” (Ethiopia); “Iska Waran” (Somalia); and “Jambo, Habari” (Kenya). These exchanges offer wonderfully subtle lessons in language, geography, and customs.

For a more hair-related story, check out Isadora’s artful retelling of Rapunzel. This version features a dread-locked Rapunzel who, like the original Rapunzel, has incredibly long hair that is strong enough to support a human’s weight (she probably used shea butter! More on that in an upcoming blog).

These books are destined to become classics, much like the stories they creatively and vibrantly recount.

By Nicole L.B. Furlonge

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