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Book Review: Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

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On his website and in various interviews, Neil Gaiman has regularly referred to his need for a haircut. He clearly courts messy hair. One can certainly imagine that as at least a part of the inspiration for his latest children’s book Crazy Hair. It’s basically an autobiography. But, of course, this is no ordinary autobiography, and, as with all of Gaiman’s children’s books, particularly those done with Dave McKean, this is no ordinary children’s book. For one thing, there is always an undercurrent of nightmare. Unlike some of his books, this one definitely has a happy ending. But still, there’s that odd blend of familiarity and horror at the edges of the story.

Perhaps it’s in the eyes of the characters. Perhaps it’s the blend — that McKean tends to employ — of collage, stencils, vivid imagery, and a kind of Ralph Steadman ink scratching in the illustrations. Perhaps it’s just the way that realism and outlandish fantasy are smoothly blended so that it’s both ridiculous and utterly believable. In any case, if you’re lucky, only the adults will pick up on the darkness, which provides a nice antidote to the sweetness of most children’s picture books (overt sweetness is never an issue with Gaiman and McKean). Children will be too busy laughing, or pointing out all of the amazing things that lurk in Mister’s hair.

There’s a nice rhyme scheme that makes this easy to read out loud and a progression, too, as children wait for Bonnie to fix up that hair with her little comb. Although she doesn’t exactly succeed, again, there’s a happy ending, and although your child will probably be delighted with this wonderfully vivid, original offering (and so too will your older children, who may try to swipe it from the littlies), adults should expect at least one nightmare as they contemplate the stolen child.

As long as you aren’t too serious or somber (and parents shouldn’t be, really), this is a terrific offering from the master of macabre – much less terrifying (for the children anyway, as it’s more subtle) than say, The Dangerous Alphabet or Mirrormask. Girls like mine, with lots of hair, will particularly love this, as will children with an artistic bent, or a sense of the absurd (anyone over 12).

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.