“I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” Published in 2005, Let’s Talk About Race written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour is the perfect picture book for introducing and discussing the topic of race with children. It demonstrates a message of celebrating racial diversity and equality. Topics of diversity have always been a sensitive subject for teachers. We are living in a very sensitive country, and yet now is also the time to push the boundaries of what we have been previously taught of race. I believe this book, and others like it, are the tools teachers need to execute diversity education in their classrooms.
This book is from the first person perspective of the author, Julius Lester. He begins by telling the reader that everyone has a story. He begins telling the story of his life and asks the reader to reflect on their own. Lester goes on to introduce himself in a child-friendly manner by explaining his parents, family, and favorite things. The last thing he explains to the reader about himself is his race. Not because race isn’t important; but because it is not the most important aspect himself. Lester goes on to explain that all people, of all races, all over the world have their own story and no race, gender, or socioeconomic status is better than the other. The way Lester explains the message of equality to children is remarkable. He is able to simplify such controversial and complicated topics to ensure children understand right from wrong. Lastly, Lester teaches the important lesson of equality through a small experiment the children get to try. He tells the reader to touch the bone under their eye and to touch that same place on another person. He then says, “Beneath everyone’s skin are the same hard bones.” How can anyone argue with that? What a brilliant sentence!
“Those who say, ‘MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE' are telling a story that is not true.” This line stuck out to me while reading this text for the first time. I hear echoes of my students saying to each other, “My (fill in the blank) is better than yours.” He puts this timeless, childhood argument to rest by saying, “…it is a story that is not true.” I hope to read this text to my students next week and I am so excited to gauge their reactions!
The illustrations in this book are absolutely beautiful. Barbour uses so many bright COLORS, COLORS, COLORS! As she should, for this book is about celebrating the many racial and ethnic colors in the world. This book would not have as effective of a message if the illustrations were black and white or dull shades of color. The artwork immediately reminded me of Picasso’s artwork with the vibrant colors and resemblance of cubism. I don’t think there could have been a better illustrator for this book. Barbour’s illustrations are child-like and yet serious enough to convey the gravity of the message. Her use of color, line and repeated illustrations tell a story all on their own. Who are all of the people and animals in the pictures? What are their stories? I tried to pick a favorite illustration to discuss here but I can’t choose just one.
As a teacher myself, I will admit that discussing race with my students used to make me uncomfortable when I first started teaching. Who was I to discuss such a sensitive topic? Would I get in trouble with my administration or by parents? There can be so much baggage that comes with discussions such as these even though there shouldn’t be. But then one day during my first year of teaching, a little boy in my class held his forearm next to his friend’s and asked me, “Why is my skin darker than hers?” That’s when I realized I was doing a disservice to my students by not formally and even informally discussing the topic of race. I decided then that I was no longer going to tip toe around it and instead face it head on and hand in hand with my students. Now, I read as many culturally diverse books to my students as I can. We openly discuss our races, culture, heritage, and how our differences make us unique. After all, the children are our future. What are we teaching them by not celebrating what is unique about us?
Let’s Talk About Race teaches children an imperative lesson about equality and kindness for all. And so, fellow bloggers, I leave you with the monumental question that Julius Lester asks of his readers at the end of his book. “I’ll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?”