Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tan to Tamarind: poems about the color brown (ages 4-8)

At its best, poetry can help give voice and language to things we sense and experience. Young children notice different skin colors, and yet they can struggle to explain those different colors, to name them. Tan to Tamarind is a beautiful book that celebrates the beauty of brown, and helps give voice to the different shades of skin children see all around them.

Tan to Tamarind: poems about the color brown
by Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Illustrated by Jamel Akib
NY: Children's Book Press, 2009.
ages 4 - 8
available on Amazon and at your local library
Malathi Michelle Iyengar celebrates the richness of many shades of brown: "masala tea brown", "ocher brown," "adobe brown," and many more, drawing upon wonderful sensory details for each hue. Fifteen simple poems conjure up the smells, sights, tastes and textures of many different cultures and settings. "Inkly, crinkly sepia brown," "wistful, muted," is shown as a child looks at old family photos with her great-aunt. "Ocher brown. Vivid orange-brown" radiates from an Indian wedding, as "ocher flowers, umber stems, swirls and curls of bright orange-brown."

Jamel Akib's illustrations will draw children in, with their warm colors and scenes of children from many cultures in many shades of brown. You can see a few of the poems and illustrations in the Google Book Preview below.

In the author's final note, she recalls being taunted by her own brown skin color with she was growing up. As she says in an interview with Amy Bowllan on School Library Journal's feature Writers Against Racism,
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.

This is a beautiful book, a lovely tribute to the color brown. It will spark conversations and bring a smile to your face. Best of all, it will help name some of the rich diversity of colors we see all around us.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.


  1. I asked my daughter what color her husband was. She said redwood!

  2. LOL Mary Ann!

    Thanks for posting a link to W.A.R., this is very true > "At its best, poetry can help give voice and language to things we sense and experience."

  3. Wow, this looks like a great book. Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to see it.

  4. I'm so glad you've enjoyed this review - it's really worth searching for this book.

    Amy, I love Writers Against Racism. The authors you've interviewed write eloquently and personally about very important issues. I've really enjoyed discovering new authors to follow through your blog. I really appreciate your noticing my opening line - I searched for a while to find the right thing to say, to identify why this book really spoke to me. I appreciate your compliment.

    Many thanks, Mary Ann

  5. Mary Ann, I stopped by to thank you for participating in the April Carnival and especially for sharing this extraordinary book. In light of what is happening in Arizona, I can't think of a more perfect addition to our Carnival. I am planning to find an opportunity to write about this on my own blog as soon as possible. Thanks again.