Monday, February 10, 2014

Let's Talk About Race...

        Let's talk about race                                                         

     Let's Talk About Race is an intriguing book written by Julius Lester and Illustrated by Karen Barbour. It's written as a personal narrative with the author telling the story. Julius begins the story by talking about how everyone has a story and asking the question "How Does Your Story Begin?"

     He explains all the different things that makes up "your story". To help create his story, he tells you his birth date, his parent's occupation, his favorite things, his religion, and nationality. All the things that makes him who he is. Almost as an after thought he also includes "Oh. There's something else that is part of my story. I'm black." Then he casually ask "What race are you?". He goes on to explain that every race has stories that makes them feel better about themselves by putting others down. Just like when people believe that they are richer, smarter, the better gender, or go to the better school, they are just stories and are untrue. The next section of the book explains that we are all made up of skin and bones. He instructs the reader to push on the bones of their checks and a those of a family member to see that everyone is constructed the same. Without skin "Everything would be normal except we would look at each other and couldn't tell who was a man, who was a woman, who was white, black, Hispanic or Asian." He emphasizes that without our outer layer it would be impossible to compare ourselves to each other. The author feels it is more important to get to know each other through their story instead of looking at someone's color and assuming you know their story. At the end of the book, Julius Lester want's to get to know you. He says "I'll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?"

     What drew me to this book where the fascinating illustrations. I loved the bright colored pictures with the uniquely drawn people and animals. One of my favorite pictures was the drawing of a woman representing a tree growing out the head of another woman (mother earth) with branches filled with children. I thought it was a incredible representation of a family tree. To me the story and the pictures fit together perfectly. It made me wonder if the author and the illustrator worked together on the book. I also enjoyed the author's simple explanation of how everyone has things about them that makes them different and, usually, race is just one of those things. However in the middle of the story that I felt that the text went from being beautifully simple to wordy and a little hard to follow. As an adult I understand the idea of removing your outer layer and only seeing people for what's inside, but I doubt that a child would understand the concept. I know my second graders would not be able to get past the idea of taking off their skin and the pictures of skeletons. So I am not sure who the author's intended audience is. 

     I really wanted to like this book--the illustration are beautiful, I like the idea of knowing people "by their story" and not by their race. But for some reason I just don't love this story the way I thought I would.

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