Helping children love the skin they are in


Trying to explain to young children why people have different skin colours can be a complex process for many parents and guardians, not to mention the task of tackling its accompanying issues of racism and race identity.

Enter literary legend Sindiwe Magona and US anthropologist and palaeobiologist Nina Jablonski. Their magnificent new children’s book called Skin we are in is here to help tackle the topic and comes with informative and engaging illustrations created by the talented Lynn Fellman.

The book is aimed at children between the ages of nine and 12, and is centred around five young children, Njabulo, Aisha, Tim, Chris and Roshni, who come from different backgrounds and ethnicities. While they work together on a school project about recycling, they journey through the process of understanding why they look different in some ways and similar in others.


“Njabulo wonders to himself. It’s all around him – this feeling that people are different from each other. At school, he sees kids who speak different languages, live in different areas, eat different food and have different skin colours. And if they’re all so different, how are they supposed to understand each other and get along? That’s kind of why he’s worried about today’s meeting. Everyone in his group looks … different.”

This, in essence, summarises what the book deals with – it is not just a take on skin colour, but the various cultural factors and influences that also come into play in a society when it comes to understanding race and skin colour.

Apart from the actual story, which takes the reader through the journey of understanding what factors, such as genes, influence skin colour, there are information blocks throughout the book that debunk several misconceptions about race, such as how the shape of a nose indicates how intelligent a person is.

Njabulo’s Uncle Joshua takes the children on a quest of discovery as they trace their ancestors and look at how everyone originally came from Africa.

“Seriously, Uncle Joshua – did everyone originally come from Africa?” Njabulo asks.

He sneaks a look at Tim, who seems to be enjoying the story, and then drops his voice a little. “Even white people?”

“Of course!” says Uncle Joshua. “That’s a part of the story, too.”


“As modern people move around from one continent or country to another and mix together, the world is filling with new skin colours and new combinations of pigmentation genes. In big cities, we can often see every imaginable shade of brown. This human rainbow is a result of our progress and is something to be celebrated,” says one information block.

As the conversation progresses, the issue of hierarchy according to race is also addressed.

“Problem is, around the 18th century, some European men of great learning decided it was a good idea to rank people according to the colour of their skin. Back then, people didn’t know what we know now – that the skin’s just an organ adapted to a particular environment. To the visible difference of skin, they added the invisible difference of value. And they put white people like themselves at the top of the pile,” Uncle Joshua explains.

Practical examples are given of famous black South Africans who have left an indelible mark in South Africa, such as former president Nelson Mandela, former public protector Thuli Madonsela, and comedian and host of the Daily Show in the US, Trevor Noah.

“Njabulo thinks about some of the people he’s learnt about that he admires – people who look like him. They are all super clever – that’s for sure!”

The book explains the repercussions of assigning intelligence or power based on the colour of a person’s skin tone by explaining that, although skin colour is something that people notice because “we pay close attention to colour, whether it’s in the sky, on a piece of fruit or on someone’s body”, people think about skin colour all the time.

“All over the world, we are still living with the consequences of European colonisation,” another information block explains.

This book provides a fantastic perspective into the problematic topic of race and how to deal with it in a practical way in South Africa, where the issue has such a terrible history.

The book deals with it by exploring the science behind skin colour, such as how pigmentation works and the melanin production in the skin. It also deals with the history of colonialism, migration and various other factors that have led people to look at skin colour in an often negative way.

This book is a great way for children (and their accompanying adults) to enhance their understanding of what skin colour means to them, and it will hopefully make everyone feel safer and more confident in their skin.

To make the book even more compelling and accessible to South African school children, it is currently available in English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans and Sepedi, and will soon be available in all 11 official languages.

- Orders can be placed with New Africa Books for a special release price of R99. Email to take up this amazing deal

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.