Toddler’s Guide to Skin Color

It would be so great to have a book series of difficult/controversial topics for toddlers… It would be like those “Idiot’s Guide” books, e.g.,Climate change for toddlers! Death for toddlers! Social security for toddlers! High frequency trading for toddlers!

Anyway, in this draft of my non-existent book, I would focus first on answering this non-controversial question: Why do people have different skin color? My assumption is that this is what a lot of kids are actually curious about. So here goes my first draft of…

A toddler’s guide to skin color (alternate title, Melanin: The truth is only skin deep)

Skin colors range from very light to very dark. People can have light skin, medium skin, or dark skin and everything in between. Ever wonder where skin gets its color?

Melanin is what gives skin its special hue! Melanin is natural pigment in your skin made by special cells called melanocytes.

Most people have about the same number of melanocytes but not everybody makes the same amount of melanin. The darker your skin, the more melanin you have. The lighter your skin, the less melanin you have.

In fact, melanin also gives hair and eyes their color. Other animals have melanin too! The feathers on birds have melanin in them and even bananas make a type of melanin when they turn brown.

But wait! There is a lot more to melanin than just coloration! Melanin helps protect our skin from the sun. When we are in the sun, our melanocytes start making more melanin to absorb the sun’s rays. This is why we get darker after spending more time in the sun. The melanin gives us more protection right when we need it.

Sometimes when we are in the sun too long, our skin feels like it is burning. That’s because melanin isn’t strong enough to completely protect your skin. To help your skin out, make sure you use sunscreen or wear a hat if you are going to be out in the sun for a long time.


Many people with brown skin have ancestors that came from very hot places in the world. Their skin make more melanin so that the hot sun won’t burn them easily. Many people with lighter skin have ancestors that came from colder lands. They didn’t need as much melanin because the sun’s rays were not as strong where they lived.

People come in many beautiful combinations of skin, hair, and eye colors that range from very light to very dark. And now you know the true story of melanin that causes these different colors!

Now we need other books that talk about other issues related to skin color of course (e.g., Slavery explained to toddlers!) but I think something like this would help us all begin to have a conversation about skin color. I’m definitely looking for feedback from folks too — what’s missing? what’s inaccurate? what could be said better?

And hey, if there are any interested/inspired illustrators out there, leave a comment!

**Thank you to V.M. for the helpful suggestions!


5 thoughts on “Toddler’s Guide to Skin Color

  1. Dan says:

    Julie would appreciate the warnings about sun protection. Make sure the sunscreen does not have oxybenzone!

  2. Veronica says:

    I would add, conversely, many people who have lighter skin and hair came from colder climates where the sun’s rays were not so hot. But otherwise, I think that’s a pretty amazing start, and I’d totally buy this book:D Although, I wonder if it needs discussion about how sometimes children ‘match’ their parents coloring, but sometimes not as much? This had been another hot topic in our family at least, due to a prevalence or interracial (if you will) marriages. Or maybe that’s another book? Just thinking aloud here….

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