A first day in a new school. Stomach butterflies, lunchroom trades, art projects. Kids asking why you’re not the same color as your dad. This is the story of Violet, a children’s picture book by Tania Duprey Stehlik with edgy illustrations by Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic.
Violet’s mom is red, her dad is blue, and Violet is, well, violet. Back home at the kitchen table after school, Violet asks her mother to explain. She brings out the paints: “If you take red and mix in a little blue, you get a lovely purply-violet.” When Violet asks whether there are others like her, her mother responds by assuring Violet that “...many children are mixed, just like you.”
Ouch. The word “mixed” as a description of a person’s ethnicity is jarring, especially in this storybook context. Doesn’t a “mix” refer to a dog or Betty Crocker? Connotations aside, the word is more problematic than meaningful. A heck of a lot of people, especially in North America, have some element of mixed ethnicity. Another approach to Violet’s story would be to emphasize this fact and dispel the myth that skin tone can be classified into a set few colors. Surely of the red, yellow, and blue kids at Violet’s school, some had lighter skin and some had darker skin, each with a distinct shade and tone. But in an illustration depicting the schoolyard, the matching skin colors of the children are starkly in contrast with the careful individuality Jovanovic gives the rest of the children’s features, clothing, and expressions.
Nevertheless, Violet seems to find her mother’s explanation sensible and confidence-building enough to proudly use it herself. Perhaps the matter-of-fact explanation of color-blending is just the ammo Violet needed to quickly mollify her bewildered classmates and get back to art projects and making new friends. However, one hopes the teachers at her school will look into some activities with multicultural play dough.