Learning About and Loving Our Bodies: Laxmi’s Mooch
Written by Shelly Anand; Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Published by Kolika, 2021
Grades PreK and up
A routine game of playing farm animals at recess launches a young girl on an exploration and eventual celebration of identity, gender, and body hair in this picturebook by debut author Shelly Anand and illustrator Nabi H. Ali. Little Laxmi is surprised, then incensed, and then embarrassed when a classmate decides she should be a cat because the little hairs above her lip resemble cat whiskers. Self-conscious, she begins noticing all the places where hair grows on her body “On my arms. And legs. And knuckles. Even in the space between my eyebrows!” At home, Mummy and Papa explain the biological reasons why hair grows all over our bodies, but they also highlight the beauty of bodily hair in nature and among other people, helping Laxmi draw comparisons to Royal Bengal tigers, butterflies, and even the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. With this newfound knowledge and sense of personal worth, Laxmi returns to recess the next day and celebrates the mooches we all have. Written with a seamless and easy-to-follow movement between English and Hindi, Anand offers a gentle, humorous, and joyful tale. Ali’s cartoon-like illustrations, digitally rendered in bold colors, underscores the curiosity and exuberance of childhood. Laxmi’s Mooch is simply a delightful book that supports conversations about identity, physical attributes, and self-affirmation for all.
Shelly Anand introducing Laxmi’s Mooch:
Note our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Self-affirmation and Self-worth Text Set. Books like Laxmi’s Mooch aim to show children that no matter what their physical attributes, they are beautiful and worthy of love. With the help of your school or local librarian, gather a text set of other picture books that help children build their confidence and sense of self-worth. Some books you might want to share include: I am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes; Your Name is a Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow; I Am Loved, by Nikki Giovanni; Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, by Johanna Ho; The Best Part of Me, by Wendy Ewald; I Am Enough, by Grace Byers; I Talk Like a River, by Jordan Scott; and Yo Soy Muslim, by Mark Gonzales. Have students then try writing their own texts that work toward self-affirmation, using whatever genre they are strongest at and most interested in writing: stories, poems, informational texts, etc. Have them share their pieces with classes of younger grades, or invite their families to a publishing party to read and hear their pieces.
Purpose of Body Hair. Invite students engage in a scientific inquiry about why humans have body hair in places other than their heads. Why do people have mooches? Why is there hair in our ears? What’s the point of eyebrows and eyelashes? What about the tiny hairs on our fingers and toes? And what about armpit hair? What would happen if we removed that hair? Guide students to brainstorm the questions they want to explore, as well as reputable resources–both print and digital–they could use to research the answers. Have students create multimodal presentations to share their findings.
Family Histories of Physical Attributes. As Laxmi’s mother explains, one’s physical attributes may often be hereditary, pointing out how “we come from a long line of women with moochay….From Mughal empresses and stately ranis to village girls and city girls. Even your nani and cousin Radha.” Invite students to inquire about the hereditary influences of their families and share their learning through multimodal means (e.g., art, photographs, writing, roleplay, etc.). You may want to share Nicola Davies’ book Grow: Secrets of Our DNA, to demonstrate that everyone has a connection to family inheritance of traits, even if they may not have all the information on their family? Consider students’ family histories, especially the histories of foster, orphaned, and adopted children, and consult your school’s counseling support team before launching this activity to ensure you are supporting students to explore their family histories and identities in a sensitive and non-traumatizing way.
Translanguaging in Picture Books. Translanguaging is the skill of using different languages flexibly and skillfully when communicating a thought. Laxmi and her family shift between English and Hindi, often within the same sentence, to communicate, showing their dexterity with multiple languages. Furthermore, the end pages of Laxmi’s Mooch provides translations of the Hindi words, along with illustrations and the Hindi spelling, that Laxmi and her family uses in the story. Have students identify the examples of translanguaging within the text and determine why they are included. What does the use of translanguaging, rather than sticking solely to English, add to or emphasize in the story? Enlist the help of your school or local librarian, as well as students’ families and communities, to find other picture books that use translanguaging. Have students read them and, as in Laxmi’s Mooch, create end pages that act as translation tools, complete with illustrations and spellings in the different languages.
Gender Norms about Hair. Even at a young age, Laxmi is aware that sociocultural norms, especially around gender, influence the acceptance of hair on certain parts of one’s body. As a class, brainstorm and list some of these norms. Then, draw two more columns next to the list, one titled, “Who Says So?” and the other titled “Contrary Examples.” Guide students to think carefully, discuss, and complete the columns for each item they listed. For example, they might brainstorm the notion that girls have long hair and boys have short hair. As they work through and discuss the “Who Says So?” and “Contrary Examples” columns, they may realize that many of these norms aren’t really based on sound logic and that many contrary examples exist that are perfectly acceptable by many people.
Shelly Anand’s website
- Twitter: @maanandshelly
Nabi H. Ali’s website
- Twitter: @nabihaiderali
Resources and articles about body hair:
- How Stuff Works: Why Do Humans Have Body Hair?
- Time Magazine: Body Hair Is Natural. Society Thinking Otherwise Is Dangerous
- New Scientist Magazine: How to be Human: The reason we are so scarily hairy
Barnes, D. (2020). I am every good thing. Nancy Paulsen Books.
Byers, G. (2018). I am enough. New York: Balzer and Bray.
Davies, N. (2020). Grow: Secrest of our DNA. Ill. by E. Sutton. Candlewick Press.
Ewald, W. (2002). The best part of me: Children talk about their bodies in pictures and words. Little, Brown Young Readers.
Giovanni, N. (2018). I am loved. Ill. by A. Bryan. New York: Atheneum.
Gonzalez, M. (2017). Yo soy Muslim: A father’s letter to his daughter. New York: Salaam Reads.
Ho, J. (2021). Eyes that kiss in the corners. Ill. by D. Ho. HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Scott, J. (2020). I talk like a river. Ill. by S. Smith. Neal Porter Books.Thompkins-Bigelow, J. (2020). Your name is a song. The Innovation Press.
About Grace Enriquez
Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.
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