Board Book Review: Shades of Black

Our 31st board book is a beautiful exploration of the many types of Black skin, hair, and eyes.

Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney, photographs by Myles C. Pinkney.
Cartwheel Books, Scholastic, 2006 (originally published as a picture book in 2000).
Nonfictional picture book converted to board book format, 24 pages.

This book that validates the appearance of ALL black children, whether they have dark or light skin and blue or onyx eyes.

Shades of Black cover resized
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney and Myles C. Pinkney.

The catch phrase here is “I am Black.  I am unique.”  These words open and close the book and separate the various sections.

There are three main sections.  The first deals with skin color and compares skin colors to a variety of delicious foods from “the velvety orange in a peach” to “the midnight blue in a licorice stick”.  The second section looks at a variety of hairstyles and types of hair as compared to various textured items.  The third and final section compares eye color to different precious stones.

We got this book after snagging and enjoying the companion book I Am Latino on sale.  This book, besides being #ownvoice, is also a valuable window and mirror.  There must be something yummy, because Baby kept wanting to chew on it.  He wasn’t so interested in reading (it’s long for him), but drooled all over it.

Shades of Black p11-12 resized
Shades of Black pages 11 and 12.

Besides conversations about race, this book also could be used for talking about colors (those not in the text are worn by children), foods, textures, and precious stones.  Two areas to watch out for.  The book assumes children know the difference between the color black and black ethnicity, but not all kids will.  Also, the portions of the book with light-skinned children may cause confusion particularly for children with a white parent.

How we handled this, for example with the picture of the girl on page nine: we looked at how her skin color was similar to mine and talked about ancestry.  We looked at other features we have in common – for example we both wear braids.  But she is able to twist the end of her braid.

Shades of Black p21-22 cropped resized
Shades of Black p. 21 and 22.

We talked about how all of the children in this book have black ancestors.  For some of them their whole family might be black, for others maybe just a part, and some (if adopted) might be the only black child in their family.  We don’t know, but can imagine.  We reviewed the difference between Africans and African-Americans, talking about people we know from Ethiopia or Nigeria or America, and adoptive or otherwise mixed-race families we know.

Overall, this was a great addition to our collection and has spurred lots of conversations in our house already.  Highly recommended.

Winter 2020 Update:  This remains one of my favorite books to give away, and we are slowly wearing out our second copy.  Essential for preschools and libraries and highly recommended for daycares and families.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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