Perfect Picture Book Friday – Black Is Brown Is Tan

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

black_is_brown_is_tanTitle: Black Is Brown Is Tan

Author: Arnold Adoff

Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year: 2002

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Race; family life

Opening:

black is brown is tan

is girl is boy

is nose is

face

is all

the

colors

of     the     race

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website)

Brown-skinned mama, the color of chocolate milk and pumpkin pie. White-skinned daddy, not the color of milk or snow, but light with pinks and tiny tans. And their two children, the beautiful colors of both. For an all-American family, full of joy, warmth, and love,

this is the way it is for us 
this is the way we are

When it was first published in 1973, Black is Brown is Tan featured the first interracial family in children’s books. Decades later, Arnold Adoff and Emily Arnold McCully continue to offer a joyous and loving celebration of all the colors of the race, now newly embellished with bright watercolor paintings that depict a contemporary family of the twenty-first century. And the chorus rings true as ever:

black is brown is tan 
is girl is boy 
is nose is face 
is all the colors of the race

What makes it great: There aren’t many picture books that feature interracial families. This one not only features a black/white interracial family, but is about race and skin color. The text mirrors what kids of all colors notice about the people around them.

What readers notice: We have an interracial extended family, and my kids have biracial friends and classmates. They have often brought up the subject of differences in skin color and it’s nice to see a book that mirrors their own observations of the world.

What a writer notices: I love the rhythmic language of this book and the child-centered descriptions of skin color.

This page describes the mother:

i am black i am a brown sugar gown

a tasty tan and coffee pumpkin pie

with dark brown eyes and almond ears

and my face gets ginger red

when i puff and yell you into bed

 

And this page describes the father:

i am white i am white

i am light

with pinks and tiny tans

dark hair growing on my arms

that darken in the summer sun

brown eyes

big yellow ears

and my face gets tomato red

when i puff and yell you into bed

 

And I love the beautiful, songlike refrain:

this is the way it is for us 
this is the way we are

Activities/Resources:

HarperCollins has produced a teaching guide to go along with the book.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday – Black Is Brown Is Tan

  1. I’m not familiar with this book, but I love it! The rhyming is beautiful — soft and gentle. I’m so glad it has been updated because kids need to see themselves in books like this. This would pair nicely with “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Carrie. It’s so beautifully written. You may want to find BLACK WHITE JUST RIGHT by Marguerite Davol. I haven’t read it in a while. Peg wrote it quite some time ago, inspired by her own family.

  3. A treasure… too bad I didn’t know about it when I needed to collect Picture books about “diversity” for a class – this would have been a wonderful title to include. Now – really must read it.

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