Picture Book Review - Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
"Have you noticed that people come in many different shades? Not colors, exactly, but shades."
The opening sentence of Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly's Shades of Peopleaccompanies a spread of children that illustrates their point nicely. Although there are kiddos pictured who share certain racial/ethnic characteristics, no two pictured have exactly the same shade of skin. The book goes on to further emphasize the point, with beautiful photos of children of all races. Rotner and Kelly also talk about the fact that there are not only variations in shade but in intensity ("some have skin that is very dark; others are pale, fair or light"). Even within families, the authors point out, the shade of people's skin can vary. A photo of a gorgeous bronze-skinned girl being kissed on either cheek by her Caucasian mother and African American father drives the message home.
We checked this title out from the library recently in order to start talking about skin color with Sprout. It's vital to us that we acknowledge that there is a racial difference between us (we are Caucasian, he is Ethiopian) because it's inevitable that he will notice it. Pretending that differences don't exist isn't an option. What is critical is that we present a message that skin color doesn't represent who we are inside, and that's a theme that Shades of People makes quite evident, both through the text and through the photos. I see this title as a great tool for introducing talk about racial/ethnic differences at a young age, so that Sprout never feels that this is an issue we weren't willing to discuss.
At the playground with friends a while back, one of the little girls mentioned to my husband that Sprout "is really tan". Jake explained to her that Sprout is African, that he was adopted from Ethiopia. She took that in, nodded sagely and said, "Okay", before she ran off to rejoin the playtime. The thought used to be that children didn't notice race; now we understand that they do notice it, but that the negative connotations they attach to racial differences are communicated through socialization, primarily by the adults in their lives. Kids will follow our lead in this way, as in so many others.
As a transracial family, we're acutely aware that the race discussion is going to come up, so we talk about it. But I think it's important for all families to recognize that building positive connotations around skin color is something that should happen sooner rather than later. This sensitively written and visually interesting title is a great way to introduce those discussions, and makes a good addition to all home libraries.
Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly, published by Holiday House
Sample quote: "Our skin is just our covering, like wrapping paper. And, you can't tell what someone is like from the color of their skin."