Janet del Mundo, a sales and marketing manager from Children’s Book Press sent the following e-mail to me:
One of our books/authors immediately came to mind as I was reading your WAR series. Malathi Michelle Iyengar wrote a poetry collection entitled "Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown":
The book was a very personal work for the author, who experienced racism as a child in North Carolina. I’ve attached a Q&A here, where she talks about her inspiration for writing the book and what she hopes children will learn from it. In a way, this book sums up the reason Children’s Book Press exists.
Here’s Malathi’s interview.
What inspired you to write this book?
Growing up in North Carolina, I was constantly bombarded with messages telling me that my brown skin made me dirty, ugly, and un-American. These messages came from other children, from adults, from commercial media such as television, and yes, even from children’s literature. I distinctly remember sitting in the bathtub and trying to bleach the brown out of my skin using water and a creamy bar of Lowila soap.
In thinking about my own journey, I remember certain works of literature that played a huge role in transforming the way I saw myself. But most of the books that changed my life were written for much older children or for adults, meaning that I didn’t read them until I was twelve or thirteen years old. The books available to me as a very young child tended to reinforce my negative view of myself as a brown-skinned person. I wanted to write a literary work for very young children that would captivate their sensibilities and engage their imaginations with images evoking the amazing beauty of the color brown.
Who do you want your book to reach?
I hope this book will make it into the hands of children who live in areas where they don’t ever hear the message that brown is beautiful. I know there must still be kids in America who are the only brown kids in their towns, who get bullied at school because of their skin color, and who desperately hope that if they just find the right kind of soap, or just scrub hard enough, maybe the brown will go away. This book aims to counter the negative effects of racism on brown-skinned children, but I think all kids should read this book, no matter what color they are.
As an educator, why do you think multicultural books are important for all children?
I’ve heard other teachers and administrators at conferences say things like, “Well, my district is all white, so I don’t need all those multicultural books.” I think these teachers and their students do need Tan to Tamarind because it will provide them with a rich literary experience that can help them grow as people. Wouldn’t teachers in these districts agree that their students will have grown, both personally and linguistically, if, instead of seeing the color brown and automatically thinking “Dirt,” or “Poop,” they can begin to see brown and think, “Cocoa” … “Nutmeg” … “Spruce” … “Milk tea” … “Coffee” … “Sandalwood” … “Tamarind”?
Malathi Michelle Iyengar is a writer and elementary school teacher. She holds Master’s degrees in Music and in Education, and currently teaches at a public elementary school where she is happy to see lots of beautiful brown faces every day. Malathi lives in the Los Angeles, California.
(Original contact is from Mayra Lazara Dole)