The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbcher Goes to School (by Laurie Halse Anderson) is a children’s picture book about a young girl who has untamable red hair with a mind of its own. Zoe loves her hair, her parents love her hair, and last year, her free-spirited kindergarten teacher loved Zoe’s hair since it helped around the classroom, picking up trash, erasing the chalkboard, setting the snack table, and comforting the children during nap time. But things change this year when Zoe goes to first grade. “School has rules,” her new teacher, Ms. Trisk, likes to say. “No wild hair in my class!”
Despite these reminders that school/first grade has rules and hair is not to tickle or write on walls, Zoe’s hair doesn’t listen. In fact, her hair begins acting up even more (see Rom. 5:20). So Ms. Trisk attempts to control Zoe’s hair, covering it with a large bag at first, and then demanding a meeting with the principal when the bag doesn’t work. The principal agrees that “School had rules. That hair had to be tamed.” But their efforts to tame the hair with ponytails and braids are in vain, so “Zoe tried scrunchies, barrettes, clips, headbands, rubber bands, bobby pins, and duct tape—all at the same time,” and it seems to work at first.
The most honest page of the book then reads,
Zoe couldn’t smile. It felt like all the rules in the world were sitting on top of her head.
In other words, it was as if the full weight of all the rules in the world were condemning her.
The story changes when Ms. Trisk gives a demonstration on the universe and begins to drop the balls representing planets. Zoe’s hair bursts through all the bands, clips, pins, and tape, exploding throughout the classroom. “Please, Ms. Trisk,” Zoe says. “I want to help. Can I try?” Zoe’s hair heroically holds up all the planets, allowing the teacher to finish her demonstration. Ms. Trisk then admits that she’s learned a new lesson, too: “That is some amazing hair. That’s helpful hair!” In other words, she realizes she was calling a good thing bad when it wasn’t so profane after all.
On the final page of the book we see a transfigured Ms. Trisk. Zoe and her hair have touched the teacher in some existential way. She no longer wears uptight grey skirt suits with heels. She loosens up, and is now wearing a a pink polka-dotted dress, sandals, lipstick, and matching jewelry. Perhaps more importantly, Zoe and her hair get to be themselves rather than pretending to be something they are not. Grace now abounds in the first grade!
Final thought: The story of Zoe reminds me of the story of Elsa’s long concealed identity from Disney’s Frozen, especially the song “Let It Go,” which has profound Gospel implications for subjects like fear, identity, and control. I leave you with Elsa’s words when she breaks from the demands to hide her true identity. These words could very well be Zoe’s:
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go