What began as a whimsical poem Chicagoan Michael Tyler wrote for his young son has, 10 years later, turned into the first book to be published by the Chicago Children’s Museum.
Using simple words and colorful images, The Skin You Live In offers the message that everyone is different, but the same, too. The $14.95 book will be for sale at the museum and in major national bookstores in April.
“This seems to me to be a perfect fit for what we’re about: honoring and promoting diversity,” says Peter England, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Children’s Museum. “We never set out to be book publishers but the author brought the book to us, and along came a terrific illustrator [Chicagoan David Lee Csicsko] and it really did fit. It felt right from the beginning.”
In the rhyming picture book, skin is compared to foods so children can think about whether they have “pumpkin pie slice” skin or “caramel corn nice” skin. Not only is skin presented in its myriad colors but also in terms of size, shape, mood and more. Despite differences, “You’re more than you seem. You’re all that you think and you hope and you dream.”
England says the initial response from booksellers, educators and other museums was so strong that they doubled the initial print run to 10,000 copies. The cost of publishing and distributing the book was covered by private donors. “We’ll be pretty happy if it breaks even,” he says. There are no plans for a second book.
“What I like most about Chicago is its diversity,” says England, a New Zealander who has lived in Chicago for three years. “In our own way, we help address issues of differences, but in a very positive way. When I first read it to my staff, many had tears in their eyes. Then I knew we were doing something terrific.”
First-time author Tyler wrote The Skin You Live In after his then 5-year-old son was referred to with a racial slur at school.
“It’s a bit unnerving to talk to a 5-year-old about racism,” says Tyler, who has two sons of mixed race, now ages 15 and 7. “I was searching for a book to read to him but was satisfied with none of them. So I wrote him a poem that I hoped would encourage children to embrace diversity but that also made the distinction between tolerance and acceptance.
“I was 8 years old when Martin Luther King was in Cicero and said that if racism is ever to end, it needs to end in Chicago first. That has always stuck with me.” Monica Ginsburg