John Rocco, who won the Caldecott Honor in 2012 for his book Blackout, remembers that in childhood, magical experiences and super powers can be found in places adults might not expect — even in a fabulously un-coiffed head of hair.
“All kids feel they have super powers,” says Rocco. “I grew up in Rhode Island, and there were 14 boys close to my age on my block. We all played together. And we all had long hair.”
He is being modest. Rocco, in fact, sported the red mop of the century (see above.) His hair was thick, unbrushed, unkempt, massive and curly as all get out. This legendary hair, in the realest sense of childhood realness, contained magic — at least as far as Rocco (also the “hair-o’s” name in his latest book: Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom) was concerned. The shaggy locks gave him super-powers, as did the hair of all his motley shaggy-headed friends. This was fact, truth, unquestionable.
The book is, obviously, autobiographical-ish — also fun, warm, and charming. Drawn in a style that gives a whimsical nod to superhero comic books, Rocco writes in a language that speaks directly to kids, almost as if that magical lore of childhood never left him completely.
Back in the day, how did Rocco and his friends get so fascinated with super powers? Rocco says he received a copy of Guiness Book of World Records one Christmas. From then on, all the kids on the block were driven by the idea of breaking records and completing daredevil stunts. He recalls homemade go-carts, jumps, jerry-rigged stunts all taking place in the street. One boy on his block, Steve, he says, took their stunt fantasies to the literal extreme and became the youngest person to go over Niagara falls in a barrel at age 22. Then Steve did it again in tandem with his girlfriend.
These specific stories from Rocco’s real childhood aren’t in the book, but they certainly inform his simple tale. Super-Hair-o sets the scene with Rocco and his super-powered friends, and over the course of its pages they learn a valuable lesson — after visits to an evil barber — that their powers do not in fact come from their hair after all. They’re super even without it.
The real life Rocco has a modest hair-cut now, but it seems super-powered hair does run in the family. During the interview, he pulled out his i-phone and proudly showed off some pictures of his wife and daughter. Alaya Marzipan is his 7-year-old daughter, and she sports an almost exact replica of the young Rocco’s hair-do. In fact, Alaya appears as a critical character in Super-Hair-o, and is going to star in her own spin-off book, Wonder Curl.
Will Rocco give his daughter a visit to the barber of doom in the sequel? I certainly hope not.
Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom is available now from Disney-Hyperion (2013.)