Skin We Are In by Dr. Sindiwe Magona and Nina Jablonski (David Philip Publishers)
Guest review by Uke Collins
“I searched for a while for a book with a more scientific explanation about skin colour. My daughter is adopted and has a different skin colour from myself and her brother and she keeps asking me “why?” She is not happy with the usual explanations such as “we are all different and family is about love, not looking the same.” I tried many other books, but they did not put her at ease.
She enjoys the scientific explanation of this book. That melanin is a natural sunscreen and she has more of it than me. And that her ancestors lived under strong sunlight near the equator and how, when people moved further away from the equator, they lost some of their melanin and became lighter. I have to change some of the words as I find it a bit long for a 6 year old. It is more suited for 8 -10 year olds. I also found some of the wording problematic for a child with no experience of racist comments yet. But then a boy at school told her, “brown people don’t know as much as white people,” and we could re-visit this book and I read the author’s actual words to her: “being clever doesn’t come from the colour of your skin.”
I think this is a great book to have in your library to help children navigate their feelings around race . The author also mentions famous black South Africans through history who used their intellect and courage, like Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Desmond Tutu etc.
Why we need children’s books on race
Skin We Are In is a much-needed exploration of race and why we all look different. We like to think children are not aware of race – but psychologists have shown that children as young as three notice differences in skin colour and assign meaning to this difference. This book follows five years olds discussing their skin colour and looks at how people’s thinking about skin colour has changed throughout history. As we battle discrimination and racial injustice around the world, this is a discussion that needs to happen – if you haven’t had it with your children yet – this book is a great springboard to start a gentle conversation.
Written by literary stalwart and icon, Dr Sindiwe Magona, who has written over 120 books and is a Writer-in-Residence at the University of the Western Cape. American anthropologist Nina Jablonski studies and writes about human and primate evolution, and is especially interested in how skin and skin colour have evolved and influenced human life and societies. Award-winning illustrator Lynn Fellman is a multi-media artist and science communicator.
For more pre-school books about diversity try these.
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