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Read and Discuss: The Colors of Us

Lena paints a self-portrait and discovers the different colors of skin.


  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
  • ground cinnamon in a plastic sandwich bag

Key Science Concepts

  • There are many different colors.
  • A single color can have different shades, from very light to very dark.


Explain that when we talk about skin color, we can also say skin tone. This book compares skin tones to cinnamon, chocolate, honey, coffee, toffee, mahogany, and butterscotch—children will probably understand some but not all of these words. Encourage them to use the words they do know, or the ones that they pick up in the story.


Before you read: Hold up the book cover and read the title and author’s name. Ask, What do you think this book might be about? Display the inside cover, showing the many hands. Say: Look at the different colors of these hands. Does this picture help you understand what the title of the book means?

While you read: You may want to read the book straight through once. On a second reading:

  • Point to the people’s faces as you read about them.
  • Begin with Lena herself: Why does Lena say her skin is like cinnamon? Hold up the baggie of cinnamon and ask children if they agree. 

After you read: Ask:

  • Lena has many different names to describe the tones of skin color she sees, such as cinnamon, chocolate, honey, coffee, toffee, and butterscotch. Ask: Can you tell me more about these different colors? What color is chocolate? What about honey?
  • Lena says the different colors sound delicious. Which color name is your favorite?
  • What were some of the names we came up with for skin colors that you liked best?
  • If you walked around your neighborhood, like Lena in the book, what different skin tones do you think you’d notice?  

Have children look at their own hands and the hands of other children. Do they think they all look like shades of the same color? Or are they different colors?