Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Written by Derrick Barnes

Illustrated by Gordon C.James

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Author interview with Watch.Connect.Read:

Illustrator Information:

Illustrator interview with Let’s Talk Picture Books:

Author and Illustrator Information:

Five questions for Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (Horn Book interview):

Activities & Resources:



History of the African-American barbershop:

Community roles of the barbershop and beauty salon:

Famous African-American barbers:

Alonzo Herndon (Atlanta, Georgia):

Henry M. Morgan founded the Tyler Barber College, in 1933. Located in Tyler, TX, the college was the first school for African American barbers. At one time, over 80% of African American barbers trained at the Tyler location:


Barber facts for kids:

Take a look at the haircut style images on this webpage. Can you find some of the styles that are mentioned in the book?:

Think about a memorable haircut you’ve had. Write a story about that experience from the point of view of the barber.

Hair care products:

In the late 1880’s, Madame C. J. Walker developed a line of hair care products for African Americans, creating what became a highly successful “hair culture” business. Madame C. J. Walker provided jobs for thousands of African American women who sold these products across the US. She was also a philanthropist and an advocate for African American causes in the early 20th century.

Madame C. J. Walker products from the National Museum of African American History and Culture:


The illustrator has created some amazing portraits for this book. He stated in several interviews that his model for the young boy in the book is one of the author’s sons.  Use the links below to create a portrait of your own..

Self portrait collage:

Large self portraits:

Try creating a partner portrait. Use this step-by-step lesson on self-portraits to draw the face of a friend, while that friend is drawing you:


The subtitle of this book is An Ode to the Fresh Cut. An ode is a type of poem that praises a person, an object, or an event. Write an ode to yourself, featuring the qualities  about you that you think are valuable.

Celebrate Poetry Month in April by creating a class book of odes. After the class chooses the book’s theme, each student writes an ode relating to the theme. When the odes have been peer reviewed and revised, students can illustrate their poems. Compile the odes into a book and display in the classroom or library.  Use this article on writing odes as a guideline for this class project:

MakerSpace Activities:

The illustrator used thick oil brushstrokes in his artwork for this book. Gather a variety of different art materials, such as pastels, water color, pen and ink. Be sure to include oil paint as one of your media. Paint the same object with each type of art material. Think about your experience of painting with the different types of material. Make a chart of your findings. Which was your favorite medium?

Gather a collection of found objects and bring them to the MakerSpace. Create a self-portrait, using these objects.

Create a short commercial about how a great haircut makes you feel.  Begin with a storyboard to help you plan the commercial. Write the script and find music that works as a soundtrack for your project. Record the commercial and share with friends and family.

The barbershop was a very special place to the young boy in the story. Think of a place that is special to you, a place where you feel confident and capable. Using materials that are available in the MakerSpace, create a 3-D model of this space.

Discussion Questions:

Look at the cover of the book. Think of three adjectives that describe the young boy on the front cover. Why did you select those particular adjectives?

Describe how the use of the word “crown” in the title is a play on words.

Look at the expression on the face of the boy on the first page of the book. What do you think the boy is thinking?

As the boy walks across the barbershop floor, what images does the boy use to compare the barber to an artist? How does a barber display creativity when giving a haircut?

Tight fade, a high/low/bald and a Dark Caesar are examples of haircut styles.  Share how a haircut can increase someone’s confidence.

Define the term “fresh cut.” Explain how a fresh cut could affect the brain’s ability to think.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison between two things that aren’t alike but do have something in common.The young boy uses the ocean as a metaphor for his haircut. Why did he choose that image to describe his haircut as he binds his hair with a do-rag?

The young boy refers to the men sitting next to him in the barber’s chair as presidential  and majestic. Do you think these customers would agree or disagree with those descriptions? Support your your opinion with clues from these two pages.

What does the author mean when he writes that sometimes in life all you need is a “crisp but subtle line?”

Why does the barber use apple green alcohol or witch hazel at the end of the haircut? Why does the young boy not mind the sting these products cause?

The young boy comments about the way the people in the barber shop, his English teacher, and his mother look at him. How do those looks make him feel? Give examples from the text to support your opinion.

The last illustration in the book is a double-page vertical portrait of the young boy walking out of the barber shop. Why might the illustrator have wanted to create an illustration which makes the reader turn the book to appreciate the picture? What qualities in this illustration make it a good closing image for the book?

The book’s end pages are a bright yellow-gold. Why do you think this particular color was selected for the inside of the front and back covers of the book?

What is the name of the barber shop? (See the back cover for a hint.) Explain the double meaning in this shop’s name.

Read the author’s note in the back of the book. What one sentence do you think is the most important in the author’s statement? Why did you select that sentence?

If you were writing a news article about this haircut experience, what would your headline be?

Select a word that was unfamiliar to you. What context clues did the author/illustrator use to help you know what this word meant?

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a speaker or writer uses exaggerated language when describing a place, person, object or event. Find several examples of hyperbole in the book. Explain why the author might have chosen to use hyperbole in your selected examples.

Would you choose this young boy as a friend? Explain your decision, based on statements and illustrations in the book.

Explain what gives you a sense of confidence. What would be the title of a book starring YOU?

When you are not feeling confident, what strategies or steps do you take to build up a sense of “I’ve got this!”

Compare your typical haircut experience to the young boy’s in Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Describe the similarities and differences in those two experiences.

Book Talk Teasers:

Ask the group of students to think about a time they felt confident and important. After everyone has a chance to share these experiences, show the cover of the book and read the title aloud. Encourage students to read the book to learn how this character finds confidence.

Have students volunteer to present the readers theater script. Following their reading, encourage students to share why they might like to read the book

Read Alikes:

African American young male protagonist

Boelts, Maribeth. Those shoes. Jeremy, who longs to have the black high tops that everyone at school seems to have but his grandmother cannot afford, is excited when he sees them for sale in a thrift shop and decides to buy them even though they are the wrong size. (NoveList Plus)

Craft, Jerry. New kid. After his parents send him to a prestigious private school known for its academics, Jordan Banks finds himself torn between two worlds. (NoveList Plus)

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. Description:In 1859, eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first free-born child in Buxton, Canada, which is a haven for slaves fleeing the American South, uses his wits and skills to try to bring to justice the lying preacher who has stolen money that was to be used to buy a family’s freedom. (NoveList Plus)

Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963. (NoveList Plus)

Reynolds, Jason. As brave as you. When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires–literally. (NoveList Plus)

Robinson, Sharon. Safe at home. After the death of his father, Elijah Breeze, a ten-year-old African American boy, moves back to New York City with his mother and attends a summer baseball camp as he tries to make new friends and adapt to urban ways. (NoveList Plus)

Power of Hair

Ford, Juwanda G. Shop talk.  A boy describes his fun visit to the barbershop, including who he sees there, how they interact, and how the conversation is “different from talking anywhere else.” (NoveList Plus)

Tarpley, Natasha. I love my hair! A young African American girl describes the different, wonderful ways she can wear her hair. (NoveList Plus)

Miller, Sharee. Princess hair. Little girls pretending to be princesses celebrate the different shapes, textures, and styles of their black hair. (NoveList Plus)

Power of dreaming big

Andrews, Troy. Trombone Shorty. A Grammy-nominated headliner for the New Orleans Jazz Fest describes his childhood in Tremé and how he came to be a bandleader by age six. (NoveList Plus)

Hart, Alison. Gabriel’s horses. In Kentucky, during the Civil War, the twelve-year-old slave Gabriel, contends with a cruel new horse trainer and skirmishes with Confederate soldiers as he pursues his dream of becoming a jockey. (NoveList Plus)

Joosse, Barbara M. Hot city. Mimi and her little brother Joe escape from home and the city’s summer heat to read and dream about princesses and dinosaurs in the cool, quiet library. (NoveList Plus)

Perkins, Useni Eugene. Hey black child. A lyrical, empowering poem that celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young ones to dream big and achieve their goals. (NoveList Plus)

Power of self-confidence

Grimes, Nikki. Danitra Brown, class clown. In this story told in a series of rhyming poems, Zuri faces her fears about starting a new school year with the help of free-spirited best friend, Danitra. (NoveList Plus)

Lewis, Earl B. This little light of mine. Through the words of a well-known African-American spiritual dating back to the days of slavery, a little boy finds that through simple, kind acts he has the power to let his light shine and warm the world around him. (NoveList Plus)

Going K. L. The liberation of Gabriel King. In Georgia during the summer of 1976, Gabriel, a white boy who is being bullied, and Frita, an African American girl who is facing prejudice, decide to overcome their many fears together as they enter fifth grade. (NoveList Plus)


Barnes, Derrick and illustrated by Gordon C. James.  Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut. Bolden, an imprint of Agate, 2017.

Horn Book                                                   

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

by Derrick Barnes; illus. by Gordon C. James

Primary Millner/Bolden Books/Agate 32 pp.

10/17 978-1-57284-224-3 $17.95

e-book ed. 978-1-57284-808-5 $17.95

Brown skin, a dimpled smile, and a fresh haircut worthy of a standing ovation. Barnes takes a weekly, mundane activity for an African American boy—a trip to the barbershop—and shows its potential for boosting his self-esteem and therefore his place in the universe. The unnamed protagonist tells of his haircut from start to finish, narrating most of it in the second person, which invites all readers, regardless of ethnic background or hair texture, to witness and share in his experience. James’s color-saturated, full-page illustrations aptly capture the protagonist’s bravado, swagger, and even his humility, which he needs in accepting a post-cut kiss from his admiring mother. In the accompanying text, Barnes creatively portrays and affirms the boy’s hubris and hyperbole: he calls himself a “brilliant, blazing star” so bright that “they’re going to have to wear shades when they look up to catch your shine.” Alternately precise, metaphorical, and culturally specific, Barnes’s descriptions make each page a serendipity. In his afterword, Barnes notes that the barbershop and the church are “pretty much the only place in the black community where a boy is ‘tended to’—treated like royalty.” A not-to-be-missed portrayal of the beauty of black boyhood. MICHELLE H. MARTIN  Reprinted from the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine with permission from The Horn Book, Inc.,


Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut.                                                  

Barnes, Derrick (author). Illustrated by Gordon C. James. Oct. 2017. 32p. Agate, hardcover, $17.95 (9781572842243). Grades 3-6. REVIEW. First published September 1, 2017 (Booklist).                                                       

Barnes (Ruby and the Booker Boys, 2008) playfully tells the story of a black boy getting a haircut at a barbershop. The boy comes in as a “blank canvas,” but as the haircut starts, Barnes leads the reader into all the things that might happen because of the cut, from passing a geography test, to becoming a star, and even impressing a girl. The other men in the barbershop look important and full of swagger because of their hair, and the barber knows what he’s doing and doles out shape-ups and a faux hawk with skill. Colorful images illustrate all of the patrons, including a woman. Barnes mixes fresh and sharp lines with an integral part of the African American experience: maintaining one’s hair. Illustrator James deftly uses bright colors including teal and fuchsia, and a colorful galaxy complements Barnes’ words well. The strong voice will resonate with readers, soothe any young child scared of their first cut, and give a boost of confidence to the seasoned pros. — Courtney Gilfillian Used with the permission of Booklist

School Library Journal (September 1, 2017) 

K-Gr 3-Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk.looks presidential.maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.-Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal ©2017