Sunday, January 22, 2006

Let's Talk About Race

Lester, Julius. 2005. LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE. Ill. by Karen Barbour. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060285966 [Suggested Grade Levels K-4]

Discussing the topic of race with children can be tricky, but Lester opens a personal dialogue asserting that he is a story himself, as indeed, we all are. By including us readers, he sets up an intimacy that allows for a frank conversation not only about race, but also, about what it means to be human: we are all stories. Lester lists the details of his particular story: his favorite food, his religion, his favorite colors, etc. And then very casually, he mentions something else that is part of his story: “That’s what race we are. I’m black.” Some are true stories, he suggests, some false. The stories about race are mostly false: “My race is better than your race.” To make the book interactive, he asks us to feel the bones beneath our eyes, and then to feel the bones beneath a friend or family member’s eyes. They are the same hard bones. If we were to shed our hair and our skin, we would all be the same bones and there would be no differentiation based on race. When Lester lists the various elements of his story, his language is direct, when he insists that he is more than his race, it is poetic. It is a beautiful read-aloud for many different ages.

Lester’s stimulating text is illustrated by Barbour’s brilliantly colored African folk art. Each double-page spread is different colored and covered with people, body parts, and creatures from the natural world offering provocative designs to extend the book’s thoughtful message. Ending with the challenge “I’ll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?,” children will understand that looking beneath the surface is just what Lester is proposing.

Invite children to write their own stories following Lester’s format.

About race:
Golenbock, Peter. TEAMMATES. ISBN 0152006036
Hooks, Bell. SKIN AGAIN. ISBN 078680825X
Raschka, Christopher. YO! YES? ISBN 0531054691

By Cay Geisler

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