Meet Epi Dermis!
Who is Epi Dermis, you might ask? Your skin, of course!
Forthcoming July 2023 from South Africa based Catalyst Press, It’s Just Skin, Silly! is a friendly and accessible introduction to the evolution of skin color. Anthropologist Nina Jablonski and historian Holly McGee draw upon their more than 40 years of combined research experience to show readers what skin is, what it does, and how humans developed all sorts of different skin tones. We all have skin—skin that has hair, that sweats, or gets goosebumps. People have attached all sorts of significance to skin color, however. But as Epi Dermis says, “it’s just skin, silly!”
As the book opens, Epi Dermis, a cheerful, anthropomorphized representation of skin, enthusiastically greets readers. Epi is a bit of a blob, really—but their big eyes and expressive features put readers at ease. South African Illustrator Karen Vermeulen does an admirable job rendering “Skin” as an approachable and jaunty little book character.
Epi’s skin color shifts as the story progresses, illustrating that yes, skin comes in all different colors. Skin does a lot of things for us, like keep our internal organs safe, or tell us how nice a kitten’s fur feels. But the things people say about skin can make it feel pretty sensitive. “People don’t always tell the truth about me,” Epi says. People use skin color to judge if a person is “nice, mean, fast, strong, smart, or scary.”
Here Epi enlists readers to learn what they have to say about themselves (why skin has hair, for example, or why the sun makes it change color) in order to tell others the truth. There are these sorts of interactive moments throughout the text, inviting readers to ask questions or offer comments. This, I believe, is one of the purposes of the book—to foster dialogue between children and their caregivers, or in a nuanced classroom discussion.
The text by Dr. Jablonski and Dr. McGee is informative, yet highly readable. The book is designated for children ages 5 to 8, but may be most appropriate for children at the older end of that range, perhaps even older children. There are inserts on several pages that explain more specific vocabulary and phrases (such as ancestral humans, for example) in somewhat more dense language than is developmentally appropriate for Kindergarteners. As such, it is best for the upper elementary and middle school classroom.
In an afterword entitled “It’s Just Science, Silly,” Dr. Jablonski reviews the scientific basis for the information presented in the book. It is, again, highly readable, but best suited for older readers. While not included in this advance review copy, the final published edition will include a foreword from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I look forward to seeing It’s Just Skin, Silly! in its final form, and to seeing it in my library.
Title: It’s Just Skin, Silly!
Written by Dr. Nina Jablonski and Dr. Holly McGee
Illustrated by Karen Vermeulen
Powers Squared, an imprint of Catalyst Press, 2023
You can purchase this book here.*
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.