There are things we talk about and there are things we don’t. Sometimes this is a conscious choice and other times it’s just an instinct–but either way, our silence actually says a lot. We tend to be silent about things that make us uncomfortable. Kids sense this, whether they can articulate it or not, and our silence marks a topic as taboo, off-limits, embarrassing or even shameful. Imagine, for example, that you run into an acquaintance and notice that their shoes are full of holes and falling apart. We wouldn’t dare to speak this aloud to them, even as a neutral observation. We wouldn’t want to embarrass them.
Trouble is, we often relate to skin color in this way. Maybe because we’re unsure of how to navigate the deeper waters of racism in our conversations with kids, we avoid the topic of race altogether. And this silence teaches them that there is something wrong with skin color. That the differences in our skin are a subject to be avoided, a subject that is somehow shameful–and that, by association, that the skin itself is somehow shameful.
This isn’t healthy for any child, but for children whose skin is different from the majority of images they are bombarded with on the screen and page each day, it can be deeply damaging. Put plainly, children–especially those with brown skin–need to hear their skin spoken about openly, proudly, admiringly. Simply avoiding being negative in our speech about skin is not enough. Silence harms in its own way. We talk about the things that matter to us, that we’re proud of, that we like. So we need to talk about skin.
So today I want to share about several great picture books that do exactly that! The book that first put this topic on my mind (and gave me a yummy baking idea) was I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Selina Alko. It follows a little boy as he dreams about his on-the-way baby brother or sister. He wonders, using delicious descriptions, whether he or she will look like “semi-sweet dark Daddy chocolate bar” or “strawberry cream Mama’s milk.”
The little boy thinks through all his friends and neighbors, noticing and naming the unique and tasty tones of each one’s skin. And he imagines all the ways that he and his someday-sibling will spend time together. “We will dream, draw, wrestle and play, do projects, sing, snack, chill, read and sleep.”
This book is a fun and playful way to open up conversation about skin–its diversity, its beauty. Most kids are fans of sweet and tasty treats, so these comparisons are inherently infused with positivity. Food and flavor are things that we enjoy and take delight in–so why not feel that way about the face we see in the mirror too?
A read of I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother will likely leave you hungry, so consider making Peanut Butter Big…Brownies! (The recipe pretty much invented itself.) Basically, I wanted these brownies to be a flavor-splosion of some of the delicious tastes and tones celebrated in the book. Butterscotch, vanilla, chocolate, mocha, caramel–are you drooling yet?
I chose a dark chocolate brownie box mix. After pouring half the batter into my pan, I made marshmallow fluff with some mini marshmallows I happened to have on hand. Microwave the marshmallows for 20-30 seconds, then add a spoon of corn syrup and a bit of vanilla extract and stir until smooth. I put dollops of my homemade fluff and of dulce de leche on top of the batter and swirled them around, making a marbled effect that any kid would enjoy being in charge of. (Oh–and I sprinkled some milk chocolate chips on there for good measure.)
I added the second half of the brownie batter to the pan. Then I warmed up a 1/3 cup of peanut butter and mixed in a couple spoons of powdered sugar. Similar to the fluff/caramel move, put dollops on top of the batter and swirl with a fork.
These were delicious. My one disappointment with them was that the caramel and fluff layer dissolved into the brownie batter and became invisible once cooked. If you want your brownies to show all the different tans and browns of your ingredients, you might want to use chips (butterscotch chips, white, milk and dark chocolates, etc.). These would still be visible in the brownie once baked.
These were fun to make, delicious to eat and would be a great way to help your child notice, talk and think about the many shades of the people around them in a new way.
More books to bake with…
The Colors of Us — Similar to I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, a little girl describes her friends’, family members’ and neighbors’ skin tones using fanciful (and often taste-bud-tempting!) comparisons. The illustrations are detailed and singing with color and pattern.
Brown Sugar Babies — In this book, parents get sugar-high off their beautiful, brown-skinned, bursting-at-the-seams-with-joy babies. “Bubbling brown sugar bubble Baby’s belly.” The photos of parents loving on their little ones and the babies just eating it up (pun intended) make this book an absolute delight.
Chocolate Me (written by Taye Diggs, by the way!) — A little boy feels embarrassed and confused by his white friends’ constant questions and comments about his brown skin. His mother helps him realize that his skin is a beautiful gift. “Look in the mirror and love what you see!”
If you’re looking for guidance on talking about race with children, here are some articles that can help: