Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit (Book Review)

I received a complimentary copy of the book via NetGalley and the publisher.
  • Author: Esau McCaulley
  • Illustrator: LaTonya Jackson
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • On-Sale: May 10th, 2022
  • Synopsis: While preparing for a very special Sunday celebration, Josey Johnson learns about dignity, diversity and being created in God’s image.

Scripture Connection

I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14

Spiritual Themes

This sweet picture book emphasizes human dignity on both an individual and corporate level, through discussion of individuality and diversity.

Josey learns that God made people different from each other on purpose and that He made both people and animals as wonderful, distinctive works of art.

McCaulley also introduces the story of Pentecost, as Josey prepares for the special holiday celebration at church.

McCaulley directly quotes Psalm 139:14 in the author’s note, which also explains his intentions for the book.

What I Liked

I was really impressed with and intrigued by the way that McCaulley wove multiple Bible stories and themes into a day-in-the-life narrative. The author overlaps moments from Josie’s life with Scriptural teachings from her dad.

For example, an appointment at the salon becomes a springboard to discuss God’s creative work in making people and animals unique. Likewise, a shopping excursion opens up a conversation about the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. Moreover, the Pentecost story reinforces the idea of diversity— which is a point I’ve never really considered!

In the author’s note, McCaulley talks about how he wrote the book for his own daughters, and I can really see this shining through in the storyline. Along this line, I really appreciate the familial interaction we see in the story, through the relationship between Josie and her dad. It is so refreshing to see a strong dad who is determined to teach her daughter that she is valuable because God made her.

This is an #OwnVoices story, and it is so fitting for young readers. Like the author mentions in his note, this book is excellent for young black girls, with specific lines about how beautiful Josey is because of her “black hair, black lips and black skin.” Moreover, children of any culture can appreciate and learn from the story’s message. As the world promotes a sinful definition of diversity and acceptance, it is so refreshing to see a book that is biblical. And, quite frankly, it’s refreshing to see a Christian book touching these subjects and from this perspective because the church has a lot of room for growth, in this area (With that said, I have seen some excellent titles from this specific publisher, InterVarsity Press).

Illustrations

LaTonya Jackson has a distinctive, imaginative artistic style that really brings the book to life. I liked the illustrations of Josey’s versatile hair and the pairing of the hair with fish, based on an analogy that Josey’s dad makes.

Jackson does such a great job of conveying emotion, on the page. She beautifully portrays the relationships between Josey and the other characters (i.e., dad, Monique, siblings) and demonstrates attention to detail in her portrayal of facial expressions. Josey has such a beautiful smile!

I also like that some pages of illustrations have a “vignette” feel to them. I’m not sure if that’s the best word to describe them, but what I mean is that a single page might show multiple snapshots from the text, or we might see a scene that doesn’t have a traditional background, but is instead bordered by a trail of flowers or a marine setting. I definitely feel like I’m getting to be “in Josey’s head.”

Recommendation Status

This is a book that is so easy to recommend! In addition to exploring themes of diversity and promoting positive self-image, the book also introduces the historical and biblical events of Pentecost. I could see this book being used in Sunday School to introduce Pentecost, just as easily as it could be read at home to highlight the beauty of being different. It’s a great story for young black girls, but the message is for everyone!

Published by Stephanie Agnes-Crockett

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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