Brooklyn Librarian’s Book Covers Tough Conversations About Race

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

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

Ralli co-wrote the book, Our skin: a first conversation about the breed, which gives families the tools and the language to discuss race and how it affects our daily lives.

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

As an early childhood coordinator, Ralli regularly designs programs for young children and their families and runs educator programs. During one of these programs, she met her co-author Megan Madison, another librarian who runs workshops on the breed.

As a white woman with children, Ralli sought out tools on her own to have a conversation with her children about the 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 thought it was important for them to have a vocabulary to recognize and disrupt racism, ?? Ralli said.

“But I also wanted to give them a language to describe what I knew they were already seeing, as unfair patterns in our community and in their schools. They needed precise and developmentally appropriate language to talk about it and to feel comfortable asking questions.

Illustration of “Our Skin”. Photo: Supplied

Asking Madison to co-write the book was a no-brainer, Ralli said, as she was already an educator 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 to be 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 these different stories ??? Ralli said.

What surprised the duo the most throughout the writing process was the constantly evolving structure of the book. Stepping away from the structure of a regular story, the book is more of a guided conversation with plenty of questions, guaranteed to start the conversation in any household. Ralli said it is structured this way so that children and families can see themselves reflected.

Illustration of “Our Skin”. Photo: Supplied

The book begins by discussing skin color and asks the reader to identify their skin color. Ignoring prejudice and bigotry ?? unless they have been taught ?? Most children are aware of racial differences and recognize those differences better than their adult counterparts, Ralli said.

She added that many white people never really learned to talk about racial injustice and racism and never recognized race as a social construct or were afraid to name skin color. In a way, this book is not only a framework for children, but also for adults.

It doesn’t matter if you are a white parent who has had the privilege of not talking about race, or you are a parent of color where talking about race is a necessary parenting practice, it can be difficult no matter what, ?? Jessica said.

This book, she said, was a tool to help. Books Our skin and Be you are available for purchase here.

The Brooklyn Public Library will also be hosting a Virtual Symposium on Race Conversations with Young Children in April and May, which you can register here.

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