Lani Rae’s Marvelous Hair Written by Yesenia Rodríguez, Illustrated by Sunny Duran (2020) – paperback
Recommended ages: 4 to 8
Lani Rae’s Marvelous Hair is a heartwarming ode to true friendship. When Lani learns of her best friend Lila’s pediatric cancer diagnosis, she makes it her mission to go above and beyond to comfort Lila.
The story begins by describing a talented young girl, Lani Rae, and her marvelously long hair. Even though it sometimes gets caught in the door and is difficult to brush, she still loves her long locks. We’re then introduced to Lani’s best friend, Lila, and the activities they enjoy together. Lani has reason for concern when Lila doesn’t show up to their regular ballet lessons. Much to her dismay, Lani soon learns that her friend has been dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Lani is heartbroken and seeks the best way possible to show Lila that she cares and wants to help in the most impactful way. You may have caught on by now how Lani’s hair ties in to this cancer story.
I appreciated that author Yesenia Rodríguez chose to write about such a heavy topic for young readers. According to the American Cancer Society, “about 11,050 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades.” That means that not only are over 11,000 people affected by pediatric cancer diagnoses every year, but also their countless, loving family and friends. How do you speak to children about pediatric cancer? How do you explain to them why their friend is going bald? The difficulty is unimaginable.
This book serves as a wonderful resource for parents trying to navigate difficult conversations about cancer. But, more broadly, it’s a lovely book that shows what it really means to be kind and altruistic. Lani makes handwritten notes and homemade desserts for her sick friend. But she is left with a sense that these just aren’t enough. Their friendship means more than material things. That’s when Lani is inspired to cut her hair and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients, like her friend Lila.
Take-away message: There are many ways to show kindness, but the most impactful and satisfying form of kindness is altruism, showing a true, selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. This is a much-needed message that will resonate not only with those trying to cope with a pediatric cancer diagnosis, but with all parents who want to ensure that they are raising kind and empathetic children.
TAGS: friendship, pediatric cancer, female lead, mother-daughter, Latinx, indie publisher, paperback, Spanish edition
About the Author:
Yesenia Rodríguez, in her own words:
I am a mother and an educator. I am inspired daily by my daughter, Leilani. Other matters that motivate me are nature, my background as a cosmetologist, and my appreciation for psychology and education. I find it imperative that we educate and inspire our children as early as possible. This brings me to my love for picture books. One of my best memories as a child is reading picture books. When my daughter was still in my belly, I would often read to her. I continue to add to our library of books today. I have always dreamed of creating a picture book of my own and I am doing just that. My first book, Lani Rae’s Marvelous Hair, is influenced by my daughter.
Also available in Spanish! El Cabello Maravilloso de Lani Rae