There should be many more books like J.D. and the Great Barber Battle, written by J.Dillard and illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts. Luckily, this is the first title in a series (with two additional books available now), so I can look forward to many adventures with J.D. and his community in Meridian, Mississippi. I have known many young entrepreneurs who have started lemonade stands or sold scented “slime” creations, but never a third-grade barber. Of course, the author of the series started cutting his own hair when he was 10 so he is writing from experience.
This book is a celebration of unique talent and individuality, while also highlighting the importance of family and community. J.D. discovers his skills with clippers after his mom gives him a bad haircut and he decides to fix it. Actually, his first attempt isn’t very successful, but after experimenting on his little brother’s hair, he’s got this down. His friends think so, too, and start coming to his bedroom to get their hair cut in all the up-to-date styles. J.D. even starts to charge money for his services. The only problem is, there is already a barber in this town and J.D. is cutting into his profits. The resolution to this problem is one of the most surprising and innovative conclusions that I have read in a long time.
J.D. is surrounded by friends and family who support him. His friend Jessyka, who plays on the football team and is great at painting nails, is J.D.’s first female customer which is another way that he distinguishes himself from his local competition. He lives with his mom, grandparents, and siblings, who find his business exasperating (hair goes everywhere) but also inspiring. Dillard writes each of these characters as nuanced and engaging individuals, which can be hard to do in a short chapter book for younger readers. This is a masterwork of children’s book writing. The illustrations also add to the joy of the reading experience, as they often highlight J.D.’s cool cuts and always provide insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters they include.
One of the best and most unique elements of this book is that all of the characters are Black. How special it will be for young, Black readers to see themselves reflected not just in one character but in all of them. While race is not something that Dillard explicitly discusses, Black people and communities are celebrated in this book in a way that is powerful for all readers. While cutting hair in third grade might be unusual, the beauty of everyday Black communities is not.
Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:
Identity 3: I know that all my group identities are part of me–but that I am always ALL me.
Identity 4: I can feel good about myself without being mean or making other people feel bad.
Identity 5: I see that the way my family and I do things is both the same as and different from how other people do things, and I am interested in both.
Diversity 8: I want to know about other people and how our lives and experiences are the same and different.