Thanks, Lindsey Roberts, for such an insightful post.
Flake, S. (1998). The skin I'm in. New York: Scholastic.
This book was unlike anything I’d ever read, but it was an enjoyable and quick read. I’ll admit that it was incredibly upsetting to hear of the way others treated this young girl, Maleeka, because of her skin color. And what’s even more upsetting is that it’s something that has happened for hundreds of years and still happens today. It’s difficult for me to even make a text-to-self connection, because I have never in my life been treated so cruelly. I cannot even imagine how hurtful that must feel. Because of that, I think it would be extremely beneficial to read this story with young adults—especially with the bullying epidemic that is prevalent today. I believe that this book would facilitate meaningful conversations and reinforce the “Golden Rule”—treating others the way you want to be treated. This could be considered the overlying theme of this story.
This book fits within the multicultural genre of literature, because it focuses on the racial struggles of one young lady within her community. Books in this genre help us gain an appreciation for other cultures, and that is exactly what this book does (Brown, Tomlinson, & Short, 2011). The story is written in first-person from the perspective of Maleeka. Therefore, we know her every thought, worry, heartache, and joy. The book is written in the way that Maleeka speaks—showing her authentic dialect. What’s interesting, though, is that the writing style changes when we see Maleeka’s journal entries (as her fictional character Akeelma). In her journal entries, she writes in a much more formal way. This is even acknowledged in the story when another student, Desda, says, “How come you don’t talk proper, like Akeelma talks in her diary? Don’t nobody talk like that for real, only people in old movies and books.” Akeelma learned it from the books her father read her before he died. She is also an incredibly intelligent, young girl!
In the story, Maleeka is in conflict with others (person-against-person), but also herself (person-against-self). In this story, she desires to fit in so badly, but she is ridiculed because of her dark skin. She wears homemade clothes that her mother sews (a hobby she took on after her father’s death). Embarrassed by the uneven hemlines and crooked zippers, she borrows clothes from her “friend,” Char. Unfortunately, she is no friend at all and completely takes advantage of Maleeka—holding the borrowed clothing over her head. Because of this, Maleeka does Char’s homework and just about anything she asks—including burning some foreign money in Miss Saunders’ classroom in an act of revenge. Char and John-John are the antagonists in this story—as they are in opposition to sweet Maleeka. Thankfully, the new teacher Miss Saunders helps Maleeka find her true identify—as a wonderful writer and beautiful, young lady.
I decided to do the “Twitter Tweet” strategy from Maleeka’s perspective (prior to her self-discovery at the end of the book). If I were Maleeka, this is what I would tweet:
When will I ever stop caring what everybody else thinks? Why can’t I just look at myself with my own eyes like Daddy taught me? #missingyoudaddy
If I were to use this book with a class of adolescents, these are the big questions I’d ask to facilitate conversation:
1. Why does Maleeka continue to help Char?
2. What do you think is most important to Maleeka?
3. What would you do if you were in Maleeka’s shoes?
4. Why do people continue to tease Maleeka?
a. Why do people tease and bully in the first place?
5. Do you see this happening in our school? For what reasons?