For a number of families, the topic of race is barely discussed and many parents don’t know where to start.

Jessica Ralli, a coordinator of early literacy programs at Brooklyn Public Library, wants to help.

Ralli co-authored the book, Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race, which gives families the tools and language to discuss race and how it affects our everyday lives. 

Jessica Ralli, BPL coordinator and co-author of Our Skin. Photo: Supplied

As a coordinator with early childhood, Ralli regularly designs programs for young children and their families and curates educator programs. During one such program, she met her co-author Megan Madison, another librarian who leads workshops on race.

As a white woman with children, Ralli was looking for tools herself to have a conversation with her children around race. When Penguin contacted her with an idea for a book that could empower young children, she knew what she wanted to discuss.

“I was looking for a tool to have honest conversations about race and racism with my kids because I felt it was important for them to have a vocabulary for recognizing and disrupting racism,” Ralli said.

“But I also wanted to give them language to describe what I knew they were already noticing, like unfair patterns in our community and in their schools. They needed to have that accurate language that was developmentally appropriate for them to talk about and feel comfortable asking questions.”

Illustration from “Our Skin.” Photo: Supplied

Asking Madison to co-author the book was a no-brainer, Ralli said, as she was already a trainer for the Center for Racial Justice in education and had experience as an early childhood educator. But despite all the research done for the book, there were still a lot of hard choices made. 

“How do we make sure that children and families of different identities come to this book with all of their different life experiences and make room for those different stories?” Ralli said.

Throughout the drafting process, what surprised the pair the most was the ever-changing structure of the book. Straying away from the structure of a regular story, the book is more of a guided conversation with lots of questions, guaranteed to get conversation going in any household. Ralli said it was structured that way so children and families could see themselves reflected.

Illustration from “Our Skin.” Photo: Supplied

The book starts off by discussing skin color and asking the reader to identify their skin color. Unaware of bias and bigotry — unless taught to them — most children are aware of racial differences, and do a better job of acknowledging those differences than their adult counterparts, Ralli said.

She added many white people were never really taught how to speak about racial injustice and racism and never recognized that race was a social construct or were afraid to name skin color. In a way, this book isn’t just a framework for children, but for adults too. 

“No matter whether you’re a white parent who has had the privilege of not talking about race, or you’re a parent of color where talking about race is a necessary parenting practice, it can be hard no matter what,” Jessica said.

This book, she said, was a tool to help. The books Our Skin and Being You are available to purchase here

Brooklyn Public Library will also be holding a virtual symposium on having conversations about race with young children in April and May, which you can register for here.

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Yannise Jean

Yannise Jean is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in publications like Okayplayer and Well + Good. Follow her on Twitter @yjeanwrites.

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  1. What a wonderful tool. Kudos! As a white mother of a mixed race daughter and multi shades of Puerto Rican/Caribbean grandsons, what a great way to talk with their schoolmates and my great grandchildren.

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