Bad Hair School Days: The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson
Zoe Fleefenbacher's hair had a presence even when she was a baby. In fact it grew so abundantly that it had to have its own stroller whenever Zoe went out. But then, it acquired a mind of its own as well.
When she was two years old, Zoe's hair learned how to open the cookie jar.
At three her hair could turn on the TV, pour a glass of juice, pat the cat, and play on the computer--all at the same time.
And all this while Zoe is napping soundly! Needless to say, when Zoe starts to first grade, having hair that behaves independently of the head from which it grows can be a bit of a problem. Especially when Zoe meets her new teacher, Ms. Trisk. When Zoe's independent red curls knock books off the shelf, let the gerbils out of their cage, draw on the walls, and tickle everyone in the class into a giggling mass, the teacher is determined to tame those tresses.
Ms. Trisk didn't fool around.
"School has RULES," she said. "No wild hair in my class."
Trisk tries a giant hairnet, but the net is no match for the runaway mop. Then poor Zoe's shock of hair is bound up with braids and barrettes, shackled with scrunchies, and held down by headbands and rubber bands. Finally, the whole of her tresses are tied up in a tangle of duct tape. Amazingly, the restraints hold her hair at bay through part of the day, and Ms. Trisk at last ventures a smile of satisfaction. But not Zoe.
Zoe couldn't smile. It felt like all the rules in the world were sitting on top of her head.
But just as Ms. Trisk launches into her lecture on the planets of the solar system, Zoe's own natural forces begin to break loose. Ping, BAM! Whap! Pop! WHOOOOSH! Her hair explodes and disorders even the forces of planetary motion in Trisk's classroom mobile.
With a timid half smile, Zoe pleads with her teacher. "I can help! I know how to do it!"
And amazingly Zoe seems to have learned how to control her contrary coiffure. She demonstrates that her tresses can orbit the planets, tidy the bookshelves, sweep up the floor, and corral those ornery runaway gerbils back into their proper habitats. It's mind over matter as discipline is restored to the classroom and the precise order of planetary motion is restored to Ms. Trisk's favorite lesson.
"My goodness," says Trisk, "that's some amazing hair. That's helpful hair. That's handy hair."
It will probably be apparent to adults reading this engaging little parable that the behavior of Zoe's recalcitrant ringlets is a bit metaphoric. Being suddenly confronted with the confines of "school rules" by an overbearing teacher tends to bring out the "wild hair" in most kids. Zoe's self-mastery shows that there are better ways to use creativity and energy than causing mayhem in the classroom.
And perhaps that subliminal message is the theme of Laurie Halse Anderson's just published picture book, The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School(Simon & Schuster, 2009). But redemptive message or not, Ard Hoyt's over-the-top illustrations will keep kids happy as Zoe works her way hilariously through her bad hair day. Kids will particularly appreciate Hoyt's running visual joke with the gerbils, whose wild and free adventures courtesy of Zoe's inventive coiffure appear on most pages. It's an interesting entry into the picture book genre for Anderson, a prolific writer who has piled up awards, prizes, and praise for her young adult historical fiction, her serious teen novels, and her engaging middle-reader animal series, all of which prove that her creativity is as versatile as Zoe Fleefenbacher's hair.