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BOOKS: A girl who refuses to brush her hair soon gets 'a petting zoo on her head'

“The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair” is a cautionary tale against parents squashing their children’s individuality. (Submitted photo)

By Jean Patrick

Republic Book Columnist

There once was a girl with wavy, bear-brown hair. But after her bath, there was something she’d never do.

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“The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair,” by Kate Bernheimer, is a unique story about a girl and the mice who take up residence on top of her head.

She’s not afraid of them. After all, one of them brings a suitcase full of fairy-tale books. Before long, they make secret passageways, a moat and a cheese cellar.

They even come to school in her hair. Her friends are impressed. After all, they think it’s “like having your own petting zoo on your head.”

But then come the problems. At school, the mice eat her lunch. At home, they don’t let her wash her hair. Also she can’t sleep because they tell knock-knock jokes all night long.

Eventually, the girl has to make a big decision about her life, the mice and her hair.

The illustrations by Jake Parker are a perfect complement to the story. He shows the multitudes of mice happily engaging in every activity — playing volleyball, waving flags, even having swordfights on top of her sweeping, tousled tresses. Just like the girl, it’s easy for readers to get attached to them.

But “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair” is not a typical book about the consequences of not brushing hair. Rather, it’s about a girl learning to live with her individual flair.

In fact, author Kate Bernheimer writes that although it’s a cautionary tale, “Its message is not that girls should stay groomed.” Rather, it’s a cautionary tale to herself as a mother to trust that kids often make “perfectly reasonable choices” on their own.

Bernheimer, who is known as “one of the living masters of the fairy tale,” has one daughter (with thick, knotted hair) and a Papillion whose hair tangles, too.

“The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair.” By Kate Bernheimer. Illustrated by Jake Parker. Schwartz & Wade. 2013. 40 pp.