One of our book club’s goals this year was to select books that addressed a variety of social issues (although some of our book selections were “just for fun”, so if you can’t identify a relatable social issue to our book selection, that might be why). This month we addressed the topic of race with the book The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. This selection was perhaps especially apropos considering the current national conversation regarding race. Recent research, including that highlighted in Nutureshock (2011) by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, suggest that white parents do a poor job of talking to their children about race and that even very young children will fill in these gaps of silence with assumptions about skin and cultural variations. Since our group predominantly (although not exclusively) identifies as white, we thought it particularly important to talk intentionally with our children about race. The Colors of Us is a very age-appropriate way to begin that conversation.
The story is about a seven-year old girl whose mother takes her on a walk around her neighborhood to observe the many “brown” shades of her friends, neighbors, and family members. As they walk, she makes delicious comparisons to the shades she observes; peanut butter, chocolate, honey, butterscotch, ginger, chili powder, and toffee, are among her observations. The book creates lovely positive associations for young children and has sparked some interesting conversations with my three year old. The dedication page includes hands in a variety of shades and my three year old loves to place his hand and my hand on the page and observe the differences and similarities. We’ve talked about the fact that even he and I have different shades of skin. At times, he’s even pointed to hands (not necessarily the shades he identifies most with) and said, “I like that one and that one”, which has opened the door for us to discuss why that might be and for me to learn if he has any underlying assumptions that need to be addressed.
For our activity, the kids traced their hands on a piece of paper (or the parents traced the hands of the younger children). The kids then squeezed some school glue onto the hands and selected from spices in a variety of shades: ginger, coriander, cinnamon, curry powder, ground cloves. They sprinkled as many or as few on their traced hands as they desired and they used a paint brush to fill in the hand if they wanted. It was a treat for the eyes AND the nose!
Snack was not difficult to derive from this book! We selected bread in three difference shades of brown: potato bread, whole wheat bread, and dark pumpernickel rye. We cut the bread into the shape of hands using a cookie cutter and allowed the children to select which bread they’d like for their snack. They could then choose from a variety of toppings (mentioned in the book): peanut butter, honey, chocolate spread, and butterscotch chips. It was a snack as sweet as the many colors of us! Cutting bread using a cookie cutter results in lots of scraps. So as not to be wasteful, I made Rachel’s Random Rambling french toast muffins with all of the bread scraps after our meeting, which I recommend: they were a hit!
There are many important conversations that we need to have with our children about race and this was simply a beginning. Conversations about cultural concepts of race will come with age, but for now, the book provided a framework for discussing skin color and the beauty of many colors.