The Skin You Live In

Michael Tyler, illustrated by David Lee Csicsko. Chicago Children’s Museum, 2018

In our world, we owe it to ourselves to take every opportunity to honour and celebrate the ways we’re both different and the same. These are messages that, if we hear them often enough, might just strengthen our resolve to create the kind of communities that will lesson racism, xenophobia and fear.

This book encourages us to look at all the whimsically drawn children engaged in various activities, noticing their skin colors. “The skin you have fun in; the skin that you run in; the skin that you hop, skip and jump in the sun in. The text then uses food-related metaphors as it pays tribute to skin tones: “Your coffee and cream skin, your warm cocoa dream skin… Your chocolate chip, double dip sundae supreme skin!” By pointing out what skin is not, Michael Tyler emphasizes that skin should not be divisive: “It’s not dumb skin or smart skin, or keep us apart skin; or weak skin or strong skin, I’m right and you’re wrong skin.” On the last page, four children are able to say “when we stand side-by-side in our wonderful hues, we all make a beauty, so wonderfully true.”

I’ve paired this book with a bit of a biology lesson on ‘melanin’, something we all have to give us pigment. Whether we have lighter or darker skin depends on how ‘active our melanin is’, our ancestors, and our climate. This becomes an excellent lesson when paired with an amazing book entitled “All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color” by Katie Kissinger and Chris Bohnhoff.



Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick, 2004

Ramon likes to draw but after his brother criticizes his art, Ramon gets frustrated and loses interest in his art. Then his sister shows that art does not have to be perfect and introduces him to the concept of “ish”. This is a beautiful and funny story about learning that self expression is personal, unique and subjective. Our thoughts, ideas, writing, drawing, and by extension our whole living, doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. In fact, it’s the uniqueness and creativity of each person’s interpretations and expressions that make art and life so beautiful.

This book leads so well into a conversation about the willingness to try, the boldness of expressing one’s self, and the courage it requires to draw/play/speak/express what one sees and how one sees it. The conversation can also go in the direction of valuing ourselves. We may not be perfect at something, but it matters more that we enjoy it, that we be true to who we are than what others might think of it.

I like to follow up a conversation of this story with a video from Sesame Street that has singer Wil.I.Am singing with the Sesame Street gang a song called “What I Am”. Not only is the song catchy, but its message reinforces that we are all unique and important people….all valuable and affirmed.

Gatherings at 10AM Sundays