Sharee Miller’s Princess Hair is helping to fill the need for a broader, more inclusive, more diverse representation of beauty by growing our understanding of what it means to be a princess. Complete with lively illustrations, her new picture book is a celebration of young black girls and their beautiful hair — from princesses with frohawks who like to rock to those with Bantu Knots who bake a lot. In our Meet the Illustrator conversation, Sharee talks about how her own experiences inspired the book, her favorite princess growing up, and why she thinks it’s important to create art as a family.
What was the inspiration behind Princess Hair? How can hair help us expand the definition of what it means to be a princess?
I was inspired to write Princess Hair after I went through my own natural hair journey — I stopped chemically straightening my hair and let it grow naturally. When I was growing up, there weren’t many representations of girls and women with natural hair, and so I didn’t really have anything to encourage me to love what came naturally. As an adult, I finally saw images of women loving their natural hair and that inspired me to embrace my natural hair. I wanted to go back in time and show myself how beautiful and versatile my hair was. I decided to make Princess Hair for the next generation of girls discovering their hair so they feel empowered to love their hair.
If we look back at how princesses have been portrayed in the past, they generally have the same characteristics — long flowing hair and a lack of agency. Often princesses are portrayed not so much as characters, but as objects for a prince to acquire or save, but we are starting to break this archetype. Princesses are more diverse and empowered. Hair is an important part of this revolution because it represents more than diversity, it represents personality. The more individuality and personal style we can give to our characters, the more opportunities we give readers to identify with our characters.
Speaking of princesses, who was your favorite princess as a child? How would you reimagine her likeness from the styles highlighted in Princess Hair?
I’ve always loved Cinderella. She spoke to animals, which was a skill I admired, and I’d pretend to be her whenever I had to do chores. Also, who doesn’t want a fairy godmother? I think she would look great with a curly Afro, and younger, to match my princesses!
Why do you think it is important for kids to see themselves represented in the books they read?
Kids are visual learners, so I think that it is important that they see representations of themselves. After all, kids build ideas of themselves and the world around them based on what they see. I know from experience what it’s like to look for your reflection in stories and to not find it.
What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment?
I love drawing fashionable kids. The funkier the outfit the better!
Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?
My favorite spread is “Princesses in head wraps take long naps.” It was so fun to draw all of the patterns in the wraps and the pillows.
Can you draw us a self-portrait?
What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by?
I love After the Fall by Dan Santat. I love the funny details he put in the cereal boxes and the beautiful spreads he creates depicting the struggles of facing your fear. It’s such an emotional story and his illustrations convey this struggle with fear and change so well.
Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art?
I feel art is a great way to communicate with your kids. It’s easier for kids to express themselves visually than verbally. Encouraging them to share their emotions through art helps them to process what they may be feeling.
I think making art with your kids can be very encouraging. Making art a fun family activity gives kids a strong foundation when it comes to creating art and encourages them to explore their creativity.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
Books by Sharee Miller