Tan to Tamarind: Poems about the Color Brown

Written by: Malathi Michelle Iyengar

Illustrated by: Jamel Akib

For ages: 4 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Self-Acceptance, Self-Esteem, POC-Centric Narratives, Poetry, Family, Community, Culture & Traditions.

Summary: This book is a collection of poetry that celebrates the different tones and shades of brown skin!  Each poem is titled with a shade: Bay, Sienna, Topaz, Sandalwood, and many more!  The poems are short and easy to read for young readers.  The illustrations are bright and beautiful, portraying happiness and community.

These poems intertwine cultural tradition and significance with skin color and celebration.  One boy’s grandmother soaks yucca leaves to make medicine for cuts, friends bake gingerbread together, and a wedding party dances together in a swirl of ocher.  Focusing on these joyous moments and celebration of family history is so important to build self-esteem and normalize experiences of marginalized populations.  Having poetry written specifically in admiration of different hues of skin increases the visibility of cultures often written out of history.  We love these diverse poems, letting the reader peek into the lives of others all over the world!

Reflection Questions:

  • Did you know all of these different words for the color ‘brown’?
  • Why do you think it’s important to have different words to describe our physical characteristics?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • What are some things your family does that has cultural significance?  When and why are these activities important?
  • How would you describe your skin color?  Go on a nature walk and look for natural objects that resemble you and your family.
  • Try your hand at writing poetry!  Write a poem about something that’s important to you, like the subjects of the poems in the book.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Malathi-199x300Children’s poet and author Malathi Michelle Iyengar grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She earned a BA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MFA in music at the California Institute of the Arts, and an MA in education at California State University, Los Angeles.

She is also the author of the children’s story book Romina’s Rangoli (2007, illustrated by Jennifer Wanardi). Iyengar lives in Long Beach, California, where she is an elementary school teacher. She is also an accomplished clarinet player.


imageThumbCat_91Jamel Akib was born in Leigh-on-sea, Essex, England, on the 4th November 1965 to mixed English and Malaysian parentage. He moved to Sabah, North Borneo at the age of five and returned to England to pursue further education at the age of thirteen. He gained a BA honors Degree in Illustration in 1989.

He began working for the London Observer newspaper while still a student at art college, and has since become an award winning artist involved in many exhibitions and commissions.

He has so far illustrated the covers for three booker prize finalists!
Jamel is represented by Illustration ltd. in London, New York and Singapore. He lives in Salisbury, England with his wife and two boys.

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