Review: Our Skin By Madison, Ralli, & Roxas

Excited to share a really helpful book about skin color and race that is done just so excellently well! It’s been out about a year and I had heard so many good things, I was thrilled to finally see it for myself and share it. A beautiful book that explains simply but scientifically how skin color occurs and how socially and historically it has been misused and misconstrued to divide and cause harm. This book covers a lot without overwhelming or being heavy-handed. Check out Our Skin by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, & Isabel Roxas, 2021.

First off, I have to be brutally honest and say that the only thing I really don’t like about this book is that it is a board book. I get the reasoning, especially with a subtitle of “A First Conversation About Race,” but ultimately I find that board books carry an assumption of being for babies and toddlers, while this book is much needed for every age and formatting it with thick, “babyish” pages is not in its best usability and marketing interest in my opinion and experience. I know many beloved picture books that are not board books that are used and loved by little and big people and I think this one could have worked better in paper format.

White page with six children of various heights, sizes, races, and clothing styles. Also, there is a large elephant tenderly smooching a black girl's cheek with its trunk.

All that aside, the book is truly excellent. It opens by pointing out that everyone has skin and asking questions about your skin and what you see when you look at others. The authors use simple, but clear terms to share the facts about melanin and how it works.

They also discuss what words we use when describing people’s skin. Black, white, and “people of color” are all shared as the currently acceptable way to describe people without giving much explanation (hold on, there’s more coming in the back). And it moves on to point out that skin can only tell us what color someone is; but it cannot tell us anything about the person’s likes, interests, abilities, and who they are inside. But, as the book points out, sometimes people try to anyway.

White spread with a black girl in pink shorts holding her tank top and pointing to her uncovered chest that is a lighter color brown than the rest of her body. And a white child next to her in green shorts with their teal top over their shoulder and pointing to their lighter skin from under their top. A dog looks on in surprise and a sun brightly shines on them from the opposite page with yellow arrows zigzagging the rays to their bodies.

This leads to sharing some light history about the construct of race and how it continues to be used in unfair and untrue ways. This is surprisingly one of my favorite spreads. So concise, so cleverly laid out, and so clearly breaking down a massive, misunderstood issue.

The left page has two brown shelves with glass containers of 4 skulls, each labeled with the type: Malayan, Ethiopian, American, Mongolian. The right page has a old, white guy sitting at a desk writing in a book with a feather pen. A thought bubble above him shows a white man with blonde hair and full beard holding an award for the Most Beautiful Skull. Under him is labeled Caucasion.

And then we move on to a simple and fantastic breakdown of what racism is. I love the way the authors discuss racism, how it can be on purpose, or by mistake; how it can be by actions or by rules that are made. “It’s all around us, even if we don’t always notice it.”

The left page shows a black child being told to be quiet by a white adult while the right page shows a staircase going up and two white children laughing and running up the stairs. A white girl with a ponytail is just stepping onto the stairs and looking back at the black child with concern.

The book closes by sharing some hope – ways that people are working for racial justice: by protesting, by treating others kindly, by telling the truth about race and working to change unfair rules.

And the final spread is given for adults as they continue the conversation. It covers helpful additions to the pared down information and encourages talking through things and how to do it well.

White spread with 4 large paragraphs accompanied by 4 miniature illustrations. They include Skin Color, Race-Related Observations, Family Diversity, and Identity Terms.

I really like this book and think it is so helpful for every age right now. While it is definitely geared towards young and early conversations, the first conversations about race still need to be had for many grown-ups too. It is something we are all affected by, many have not been taught to see and notice it, and we are not all on the same page about its history and constant prevalence in all of our lived experiences. Hopefully more books like this can get us further along in a shared understanding and action.

As always, I would be remiss to close a review without touching on the illustrations at all. This book’s topic is the priority, but it would be dry and uninteresting without Roxas’ wonderful illustrations. I have always admired her art and I love the way she tells the visual story in this book. The characters she uses are a beautiful variety of people and the scenes are just fun, helpful, clear, and really beautifully executed. Picture books are nothing without their art and Roxas really carried the storyline of this one so well.

Highly recommend this book for all ages, but definitely for starting conversations early for all caregivers. Would make a unique and excellent baby gift, coffee table book, addition to any home library.

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