The story, “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz is an endearing children’s book that celebrates the many shades of skin color. It is written in a cute, entertaining, and innocent way to provide an unbiased view of multiple cultures of children ages 4-8 years of age.
It begins with seven-year-old Lena, a budding artist, wanting to paint a self-portrait. Her mother is instructing her how to mix the colors yellow, red, white, and black to accurately create Lena’s skin color. Lena doesn’t understand.
“The right brown?! But mom…brown is brown.”
“There are many shades of brown,” her mother says and invites her to take a walk to see for herself.
From there, the readers are introduced to Lena’s established world of friends and family, from the playground to the park, to the familiar pizza parlor to the spice store. She even mentions her babysitter and a friend who lives near the playground. Everyone Lena sees has different skin. She describes the varying shades with articles of food or some other item she deems exotic. For instance, while her cousin Kyle is “reddish-brown like the leaves of fall,” her friend Isabella is chocolate brown like birthday cupcakes.
Lena is fascinated by all the shades of brown that she sees, and can’t wait to return home to paint. The varying skin tones give her a deeper insight and well-rounded view into the many different cultures around her, free from judgment. When she and her mother return from their walk, Lena visits with her friends and then sets out her yellow, red, white, and black paints. Carefully mixing the colors together in different ways, Lena practices recreating everything she learned and recites each color name out loud to herself as she paints.
Lena’s mother plays an instrumental role in this part of her daughter’s development, illustrating the special bond mothers share with their children during their early years of development. It also demonstrates the loving and nurturing qualities of mothers as they impart their love to their children.
Karen Katz wrote this book for her own daughter, Lena, who was adopted from Guatemala six years before the book was published.