In modern day, families come in all different shapes, sizes, and skin. However, it is common for children’s books to unknowingly aim for an audience fitting of the majority, unintentionally instilling a feeling of difference in the minds of young minority readers. In her children’s book, Happy in Our Skin, Fran Manushkin shatters the conventional “family” unit often displayed. Instead, her story splashes off the page with families of all different races and religions, calling out “bouquets of babies sweet to hold: cocoa brown, cinnamon and honey gold” along with “ginger-colored babies, peaches and cream, too”.
While the story centers on one biracial family in particular, Manushkin dazzles the neighborhood scenes with diversity. From a Muslim family to a girl in a wheelchair, the story includes characters that often don’t make it into children’s texts but will reach those children who can relate. The book also takes place in a city, adding a contemporary feel to a classic message: our skin is what makes us who we are.
Manushkin threads a message of self-love into the book by explaining first and foremost our skin’s crucial role in our biology, as “it keeps the outsides out and your insides in”. Approaching the broad topic of diversity in a tangible way, she chose skin color to teach children to have appreciation for their distinct looks. She even mentions scabs, birthmarks, and-my personal favorite-freckles. I’ve always had many freckles growing up (still do), and have never felt self conscious about them because my parents talked about how special and beautiful they were, and how they made me unique. This is the exact tactic Manushkin uses in her book and she does so in an approachable manner, throwing in phrases like “yes, we all have skin, but nobody is you” to reach children effectively.
Lauren Tobia, the illustrator of Happy in Our Skin, was crucial to the depiction of Manushkin’s message. Tobia’s drawings are believable, colorful, and not to mention adorable. In this book, diversity is the norm and, just like the families in the neighborhood, we should all take the time to appreciate the “bouquets of people…blooming and boisterous, brawny and thin, loving each day…happy in our skin!”