February 13, 2024

Hair Oil Magic

Written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
Bloomsbury Children's Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-6
February 2024
Most of us love learning about cultural practices and traditions that may be familiar and commonplace to others. The ancient and routine practice of hair oiling, while customary in some places in the world and more popular in some societies, is becoming more of a thing elsewhere. Still, a story like Hair Oil Magic doesn't just educate readers about these traditional rites. It also reminds us of the connections that are the basis for them.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
For Meenu, Sunday is "Magic Hair Day." It is the day that her mother, like her grandmother once did, would mix a wonderfully-scented concoction and massage it into Meenu's scalp. Then Meenu would go on with her day, playing and helping her Biji (Punjabi for grandmother), until bath time when Mommy washed her hair with a special shampoo.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
She loved the way her hair felt and bounced at the end of the day but most of all she loved how she felt as she sat in Mommy's lap and had her scalp massaged.
It was like little floating stars
twinkling around her heart!
Not surprising that little Meenu wants to recreate that feeling and impress Mommy and Biji by making her own magic oil, recalling what her mother telling her about fenugreek oil and rosemary and castor oil and more. And so, in bathroom, accompanied by her dog, Meenu begins to pour and mix but she can't quite get the formulation right. After a few mishaps, resulting in a broken bottle, tears, and a fresh bath, Meenu learns the true secret ingredient of their Magic Hair Days.
From Hair Oil Magic, written and illustrated by Anu Chouhan
Anu Chouhan has illustrated several picture books, including Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes and A Dupatta Is..., and created art for video games, but this is her debut picture book as the author-illustrator. This Punjabi-Canadian creator knows this story from her heart and speaks to the connection in her "Author's Note." (She also includes "Meenu's Magic Hair Day Tips" as she learned as a child.) The physical benefits of hair oiling are tangible but the emotional bonding that happens between family members as the hair is oiled is even deeper. Anu Chouhan expresses the kinship that comes with this tradition as magic, and her digital illustrations certainly give readers that enchanted vibe. With sparkles and smiles, and tender embraces and swirls of charming alchemy, Anu Chouhan lets us see the magic that surrounds the family as they maintain their traditions and connect with each other through sweet-scented oils, touch, and affection.
Drawing on her Punjabi ancestry, I suspect Anu Chouhan has more stories to tell. Fortunately, as an accomplished artist, she is perfectly placed to give colour and heart to those stories and enlighten some young readers and connect with others who already have found the magic in hair oiling.

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