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‘Mama’s Sleeping Scarf’: by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Is a Picture of Black Family Life

‘Mama’s Sleeping Scarf’: by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Is a Picture of Black Family Life

Representation matters, and Black children deserve to see positive representations of themselves, their identities, and their communities in the books they read.

Growing up, it was a Saturday ritual for my mother to take me to the library. It was something I looked forward to, spending time with my mother and having a world of books to choose from.

I also remember how difficult it was to find books with Black children. There may have been a few, but for the most part, none with rich stories for me to identify with. So, I had to place myself into stories that weren’t necessarily for me and use my imagination.

But finding one representative story is not enough. In a 2009 TED Talk that’s been viewed over 30 million times, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about the danger of a single story. She tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

When children don’t regularly see an accurate representation of themselves, it sends to them a powerful and harmful message that they do not belong. If children aren’t able to find themselves reflected in the stories they read or when the images they see are not authentic, they learn a lesson in how they will be perceived in the world. Black children need to see their real lives on the page; their families and culture.

I was excited to find out that Adichie was publishing her debut children’s picture book, Mama’s Sleeping Scarf, a story about a little girl’s love for her mother’s scarf, and the adventures she shares with it and her whole family.

Adichie wrote this story for her daughter and as the daughter of Grace and James, her late mother and father. This is why the book is published under the name Nwa Grace James. She wanted to honor the relationship with her daughter as well as honor her parents, whom she lost recently.

This is an adorable book with beautifully-colored illustrations by Joelle Avelino, a Congolese and Angloan illustrator. The story is about Chino and her mama’s soft, silky scarf. For little Chino, the scarf is like a piece of her mama that she can hold onto throughout the day while Mama is at work. Chino plays with the scarf as any typical young child would. The green fabric with “big red circles” and “little blue circles” can be a blanket for Bunny, a curtain to play peekaboo, and a scarf for Chino, which she wears at dinner when Mama comes home.

Throughout the day, Chino plays games, eats snacks, and exercises with her papa, grandpa, grandma, and Bunny. The scarf serves as a connection. This comes to life when grandma ties the scarf around Chino’s head and tells her, “Now you look just like Mama.”

Finally, the scarf returns to Mama at bedtime. Mama has long, beautiful braids that she has to keep tight. This book rolls through the typical day of a fun-loving family from morning until bedtime, and Adichie has a wonderful way of emitting a fun and warm impression on the reader.

What I love is that Avelino’s illustrations depict a family with a range of skin tones and hair colors, which is a refreshing reflection of the true diversity of the Black community. Bright backgrounds with repeating circular patterns feature various shapes and colors while placing the focus on Chino’s relationships with the people she loves most. The straightforward text lingers on each scene, inviting children to dwell in Chino’s world.

Reading this story made me think about how the smallest thing, like a piece of cloth, can do big things for a child. I don’t know about you, but my mother had a couple of items of clothing that I associated with her. I can’t say that I used them to feel closer to her when she would leave, but I do understand little Chino’s bond with her mother.

Chino’s mother must have her sleeping scarf, with its bold colors and circles “to keep her hair soft and nice.” Chino loves that scarf almost as much as her mama, as it gives her comfort. When Mama must leave for work, Chino worries that she won’t come back. Most children can relate to this, as they don’t want to see Mama go. Chino’s mama knew that something so special to her would be just the thing to refocus her child’s fears.

Overall, this is such a sweet story about worries and adventures, along with routines and family. Mama’s Sleeping Scarf shows how the smallest things are connected, how a family relates to one another, and more importantly, how Mama always comes back home.

I give this book a 5/5 stars. It is a celebration of everyday Black family life.

Mama’s Sleeping Scarf is available September 5 everywhere books are sold. Please consider purchasing from which helps indie bookstores compete online and maintain their presence in local communities.

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