Whether you are wandering through the Hundred-Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh or running to the barn to see what Charlotte has spun on her web, a good children’s book always has a valuable lesson embedded within its lines. Children’s books often serve as a way to explain a difficult or uncomfortable situation, and the same can be said for Colleen Thomas’ new book, “Beautiful Skin: A Children’s Book about Overcoming Racism.”
Thomas is a class of 2013 Clemson graduate with a degree in chemical engineering and is married to former Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas. Growing up in Massachusetts, Thomas knew that she wanted to travel to a new part of the country to pursue her education. After touring Clemson’s campus, she knew that she had found her new home.
Seven years after graduating, Thomas was saddened and shocked by the series of tragic deaths our country witnessed at the hands of those who are meant to protect us. She thought of her biracial daughters and how she would explain race, racism and diversity to them. She set out in search of a book that could assist in educating her daughters about these important topics, but unfortunately could not find anything that fit what she was looking for. It was then that Thomas decided to write something special for her girls. Thomas went on to share her words with her husband and close friends, and together they decided that her story needed to be spread. Despite her inexperience in publishing, Thomas knew that her book was important.
Thomas originally presented her story as a poem on May 28, 2020. After deciding to share her story, she reached out to friends in the publishing world, and, with their advice, she turned her poem into a storyboard. Then her search began for an illustrator. Thomas searched Instagram hashtags for #childrensbookillustrator and started messaging people on the platform. After getting several sample sketches of the main character, she selected an illustrator. In less than two months’ time Thomas’ fully illustrated book was ready for print. “Beautiful Skin” was published on July 17.
The book uses simple, rhythmic language to tell a story of a biracial girl who learns three important words: race, racism and diversity. These words are learned through conversation with her parents after she experiences racism at school. “Beautiful Skin” not only defines racism, but it demonstrates ways that children can overcome it. The book is a tool for parents to start the difficult conversation with their children about overcoming racism. Thomas’s goal was to provide parents and educators a tool that they can use to start the important dialogue about welcoming differences and overcoming racism.
Thomas repeatedly acknowledges that her daughters are her inspiration, and she wrote this book for them. They are still young and have yet to experience the harshness of racism. If “Beautiful Skin” does what Thomas hopes it will, maybe they won’t have to.
When asked about changes she would like to see within the Clemson community, Thomas said, “I would love to see a united Clemson stand together against racial and social injustice.” She went on to say that Clemson is a place with such a strong spirit and sense of community and has the potential to be the model for other communities to break down racial barriers and come together as one. She poses the question, “If we don’t come together to learn from each other, then how do we work to truly overcome racism?”
Thomas’s book is available on Amazon. Keep an eye out for Clemson paws hidden on each page.