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Free the Curls; An interview with author and KidNuz advisor Marissa McGee

KidNuz advisor and anti-bias educator Marissa McGee's first children's book is hot off the press. It was inspired by her own unfortunate experience and is designed to spark family conversations and, hopefully, empower kids to stand up for what's right.

In a nutshell, what’s Free the Curls about?

Free the Curls features an inquisitive six-year-old (Maliyah) and her mom. When they visit a store to buy shampoo for wash day, they notice all the products for Maliyah’s hair type are locked up. Maliyah and her mom must decide ﹣ buy the products or take a stand?

What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write Free the Curls when I visited several stores in California’s Bay Area and one in Washington, D.C. and noticed all the products for my hair type were locked in a glass case. A woman overheard my conversation with the manager and shared that she and her daughter noticed the same discriminatory practice. It was at that point that I decided to write Free the Curls. Some say that race, discrimination, prejudice, etc. are adult issues. But when they impact children, they become issues for children as well.

How might this book impact children?

Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center show that less than 12% of children’s books feature main characters who are Black. Kids who identify as Black will see reflections of themselves in Maliyah. Those who do not identify as Black can engage in perspective-taking.

Any advice on how adults can help kids process the information?

Though conversations about race and discrimination can cause discomfort, these conversations have the potential to result in change. So the first step is to talk. When children pose questions, respond. If they don’t yet have the language for something that they see, then adults can give them the language by modeling our thinking.

Need help getting the conversation started? Read books like Free the Curls, Click Clack Moo, and Speak Up then see where the conversation takes you.

Finally, help children come up with an action plan. While they may have less agency than adults, kids can still make a difference. Engage in shared writing activities where children can write letters to store managers or city officials when they notice practices that are rooted in discrimination.

What are some of the teachable moments for kids?

As an anti-bias educator, one goal is to help children notice the world around them. We want children to ask questions and think critically about what they see in the world. Additionally, communicating to kids that they have agency is a teachable moment from this book. And if their agency is limited, then this book will communicate that adults can help to amplify kids’ voices.

If you’d like to learn more about Free the Curls, you can visit

Marissa McGee has spent her career in communities that have been historically underserved due to systemic inequities. She taught kindergarten, first, and second grade in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade. She now serves as an instructional coach in Oakland, CA.


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