Book: Let's Talk about Race

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Grade 1-5 - This stunning picture book introduces race as just one of many chapters in a person's story. Beginning with the line, "I am a story," Lester tells his own story with details that kids will enjoy, like his favorite food, hobbies, and time of day. Then he states, "Oh. There's something else that is part of my story…I'm black." Throughout the narrative, he asks questions that young readers can answer, creating a dialogue about who they are and encouraging them to tell their own tales. He also discusses "stories" that are not always true, pointing out that we create prejudice by perceiving ourselves as better than others. He asks children to press their fingers against their faces, pointing out, "Beneath everyone's skin are the same hard bones." Remove our skin and we would all look the same. Lester's engaging tone is just right and his words are particularly effective, maintaining readers' interest and keeping them from becoming defensive. The pairing of text and dazzling artwork is flawless. The paintings blend with the words and extend them, transporting readers away from a mundane viewpoint and allowing them to appreciate a common spiritual identity. This wonderful book should be a first choice for all collections and is strongly recommended as a springboard for discussions about differences.
- Mary Hazelton, Warren Community School and Miller Elementary School, ME


K-Gr. 3. With an chatty, interactive text that is clearly meant to generate discussion, and vividly colored, mixed-media artwork, this book, like bell hooks' Skin Again, considers race as only one aspect of a person's identity. Lester begins with a look at prejudice. He then goes anatomical: "beneath everyone's skin are the same hard bones." Without clothes, skin, and hair, everyone looks the same. Well, gender sameness doesn't quite work (women's pelvic bones, for example, are larger), but kids will laugh at the notion of stripping down to the skeleton. They'll also think about the concept, especially because Lester speaks so personally, not only as a proud black man but also about where he lives and what he likes and dislikes. Barbour's pictures have a folkart feeling that aptly shows a rich diversity of individuals as well as the common humanity that connects people everywhere.
– Hazel Rochman

• I recommend you give this to every teacher in your life. This is a beautiful book that does a beautiful job looking at people as beautiful individuals.
– M. Heiss

• Everyone has a story that is made up of lots of things like when they were born, what race they are, who their parents are and lots more. This book is all about race. It teaches us that we are really all the same deep down. Everyone is a person that deserves to be treated with respect no matter what color their skin is.
The book is full of colorful images. The book is not too long to read all at once and it has a great message.
We would recommend this to teachers and anyone who works with children. The book is a great way to open discussions on racism, and treating others with respect and kindness regardless of who they are, where they live, the color of their skin, or what clothes they wear.

• There is nothing like a thoughtful picture book to inspire rich discussion. LET'S TALK ABOUT RACE, by Julius Lester, is a perfect example. This compelling picture book is a simple, yet elegant, exploration of personal identity. It is easily read in one sitting, and yet the layered illustrations encourage the reader to linger on each page. Julius Lester's well-chosen words, combined with Karen Barbour's extraordinary drawings make this a must-have for schools and libraries.
– Lena Larson


Biography Born in 1939, Julius Lester spent his youth in the Midwest and the South and received a B.A. in English from Fisk University in 1960. Since 1968 he has published 25 books of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, and poetry. Among the awards these books have received are the Newberry Honor Medal, American Library Association Notable Book, National Jewish Book Award Finalist, The New York Times Outstanding Book, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, Caldecott Honor Book, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a National Book Award Finalist. His books have been translated into eight languages.He has published more than one hundred essays and reviews in such publications The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Op-Ed Page, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, The New Republic, Katallagete, Moment, Forward, and Dissent. He has recorded two albums of original songs, hosted and produced a radio show on WBAI-FM in New York City for eight years, and hosted a live television show on WNET in New York for two years.
A veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, his photographs of that movement are included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution and are part of the permanent photographic collection at Howard University. After teaching at the New School for Social Research for two years, Mr. Lester joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in 1971 where he is presently a full professor in the Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department, and adjunct professor in the English and History departments. He also serves as lay religious leader of Beth El Synagogue in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He has been awarded all four of the university's most prestigious faculty awards: The Distinguished Teacher's Award; the Faculty Fellowship Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship; Distinguished Faculty Lecturer; and recipient of the Chancellor's Medal, the University's highest honor. In 1986 the Council for Advancement and Support of Education selected him as the Massachusetts State Professor of the Year. Mr. Lester's biography has appeared in Who's Who In America since 1970. He has given lectures and papers at more than 100 colleges and universities. His most recent books are John Henry, And All Our Wounds Forgiven, a novel about the civil rights movement, and Othello, a novel based on the Shakespeare play.