Written by Julius Lester Illustrated by Karen Barbour
How far would you go to show people that we are more alike than different? Would you be willing to take off your skin? In the book Let’s Talk About Race Julius Lester is willing to take off his skin to show the world that, “Beneath our skin I look like you and you look like me.”
This may be one of those books considered “risky” but well worth the risk. It promotes the value of diversity and difference. Lester immediately draws the reader in by asking questions causing him to reflect upon his own ethnicity and background. For example, “I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” Lester shares how his story began and asks the reader, “How does your story begin?” Then he cuts right to the chase about race. He shares how we as people are always comparing ourselves to each other and in the end one thinks they are better than the other. So, how do you drive home the point to a child that we really are all the same? Lester has the children interact with the book by pressing their fingers softly against their skin below their eyes. Then he asks them to do this again with someone near them. “Beneath everyone’s skin are the same hard bones.” Then Lester suggests that if we all took off our skin and continued with our normal lives we would see a different picture. We may be more willing to accept everyone. We may not judge someone; instead, we may ask to get to know them.
There are creative illustrations painted on smooth paper that are intense and full of character. Karen Barbour does an amazing job telling the story through her pictures. In the beginning the first spread is all yellow and black with the exception of the butterfly covering part of a body. The paintings continue to be bright and vibrant until the moods changes. When the reader discovers that under our skin we are all bones, the colors are cool and soft. Then, when you turn the page the colors are bright once again. There is a full bleed illustration with people all together in bones. The person with the large eye on her chest and the eyes on her legs is sending the message to look beyond the color of our skin. See the real beauty within each of us. At the end of the story Barbour shows Lester lying horizontally across the two page spread at the top of the page. I think he is embracing who he is and he is free. He is not bound by the color of his skin.
Julius Lester and Karen Barbour provide a unique book that will make the reader open one’s mind and reflect upon one’s ethnicity and background. Through these opportunities we will begin to move closer towards acceptance of ourselves and others.