Melanin ‘n’ Me is a children’s book by Beverly Dyson Crespo with illustrations by Chris Hall. In the form of an illustrated poem, it teaches young readers about melanin. Published in 1996 by A & B Publishers of Brooklyn, NY the book takes us on a journey of awareness of melanin in the course of a single day.
Crespo has a background in elementary education from Baltimore’s Coppin State University. She tells a tale of melanin that has been too long in the making, but everything happens in its time.
What this book has done exceeds the text and pictures within. It brought us into the area of children’s books for African-Americans. This is something which we thought would be more rewarding.
The disappointment comes in the form of books listed under African-American children’s books on Amazon.com. Numerous editions on the list have “color” and “skin” in their titles. They backhandedly lavish apparent contempt on the value of being our individual selves as melanin people. NEVER in any of the titles we reviewed was the word “melanin” mentioned.
Is that an oversight? Is it deliberate? Are certain subjects taboo as far as young people of African ancestry are concerned? Slavery is welcome. So, too, is the civil rights movement. However, the chemical which unites all these stories, melanin, seems to be missing from the conversation. We can tell our children they are “brown” but not why? Says who? Do the people who write these books know what melanin is? If they do and they leave out discussion of melanin even when writing about slavery or the civil rights movement are they stuck in a past that has yet to learn about why we are who we are?
Here we are nearly fifty years after Rudolfo Alessandro Nicolaus wrote his seminal 1968 text Melanins. He pieced together the research of melanin up to that time and combined them into one volume. His protegé Giuseppe Prota brought the work on melanin up to date with his Melanins and Melanogenesis in 2015. Prota put his over 30 years of activity in melaninology into giving us a picture of the frontiers of the field.
Crespo shows that producing such a book for children is really quite simple. The poetic angle actually makes the book more interesting than many of those which bask in their melanin denial. Here’s to hoping there will be more like it in the future.
I read a book the other day
About a chemical in our bodies
that colors the skin
The name of that chemical is melanin
And I’m so glad it put the brown in me.
It’s even in my eyes to help me see.
Without it, I could never play beneath the sun
Because harmful rays could burn my skin
And ruin all the fun.
Now, don’t get me wrong I like shade.
But I wouldn’t want to play, in it every day.
And my brothers and sisters are just like me.
They’d rather be in the sunshine,
not under a tree.
I asked my mother what else melanin could do,
and she said,
“Honey, it protects you from diseases too.”
The next day I raced to school
to tell my teacher all i knew.
She smiled at me and said,
“Everything you say is true.
And besides it enhances your reflection.
But more importantly
it gives you a strong connection
to all of your relatives here and across the sea”
Well, for the rest of the day I couldn’t do a thing.
I just waited and waited
for that school bell to ring.
And when I got home, I bent my knees to pray
And told God that I thank him every day
For having the wisdom and foresight to see
How important it was to put melanin in me.
Beverly Dyson Crespo is the author of a children’s book “Melanin ‘n’ Me” from which the above poem was transcribed. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and received her degree in elementary education from Coppin State University.
She taught fourth and fifth grades for seven years and incorporated poetry into her curriculum to encourage her students to express creatively through their writings.
Beverly has been living in New York City for the past 17 years, where she has worked as an adult education teacher and counselor. She continued to use poetry as a vehicle to help older students to prepare for their high school equivalency exams.
She continues to write poetry and short stories for children and has been doing so since she was twelve years old.