The Skin I’m In: Recommended Readalikes

Generally speaking, the rockiness of middle school comes pretty close to being a universal experience. Long time readers already know that we have talked about dealing with the challenges of puberty before; that experience would be enough to throw anyone for a loop. Add in ever changing academic and social situations with other children, all going through their own internal chaos, and surviving 7th grade begins to look like a triumphant but harrowing hero’s journey. The protagonist of The Skin I’m In, Maleeka, experiences relentless bullying from her classmates, especially about her dark skin. Through a perspective-shifting connection with a teacher, she learns to love and accept herself. This week we wanted to offer a list of recommended reads with similar themes of self-love and acceptance. Young readers looking for reads akin to The Skin I’m In might enjoy the following books:

  • Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
    This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Sulwe, whose experience with criticism of her skin mirrors Maleeka’s. A shooting star takes her on a celestial magical journey during which readers are lead through the truly luminous illustrations accompanying the story. Recommended for anyone exploring the subject of colorism with very young children.
  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams
    Like Maleeka and Sulwe, thirteen-year-old Genesis has internalized harmful and hurtful messages about the color of her skin. While dealing with some very tough family situations in her methodical, conscientious way (she is a consummate list-keeper), she is also determined to lighten her skin, which she sees as another problem to solve. Through the narrative, Genesis finds a pathway to self-acceptance through music and connections with others.
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles
    In 1983, Newark New Jersey, Vanessa Martin is inspired by Vanessa Williams, the first Black Miss America. She enters a beauty pageant at her school at the urging of her teacher. This semi-autobiographical novel shows Vanessa’s journey to reaching a solid self of self-worth.

Teens and adults looking for readalikes to this episode’s book might try some of these titles:

  • Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
    If you are looking for something more on the essay or poetry side, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen may be for you. Rankine uses multiple modes of expression, including the aforementioned essays and poems and also images to share her accounts of encountering racial prejudice in daily life.
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
    This is a story of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a woman named for both Alvin Ailey, the acclaimed dancer and choreographer and also her grandmother Pearl. The title of the book is inspired by the writings of noted scholar W.E.B. Du Bois. Ailey’s story of coming of age in Georgia takes her back through her family’s intergenerational history and trauma.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    If you were waiting for a sign from the universe to finally sit down and read some Toni Morrison, let this be it. Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove dreams of looking other than how she is. She is teased by other children for her skin, hair, and eyes and longs for blonde hair, blue eyes, and the feeling of belonging she thinks they will bring her. Without giving away the rest of the plot, Pecola’s story is a harrowing one. Morrison has spoken of the character of Pecola having grown by a conversation with a childhood classmate who also longed for blue eyes.

This blog is created by Hannah and Ella in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode, The Skin I’m In, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts. Or you can simply click on the link to the episode to listen.

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