Sadly, children's literature is not exempt from colorism. I recently received a copy of Beauty and the Beast, a picture book written by H. Chuku Lee, illustrated by Pat Cummings, and published by Harper Collins earlier this month.
As you can see, the young woman on the cover has light skin. When I opened the book, I couldn't find this woman in the pages -- everyone I saw had darker skin. (You can see the illustrations inside the book on its amazon.com page.) According to the publisher's description, the book is inspired by the Dogon people in Mali. Here are some pictures of Dogon people:
To make sure I wasn't crazy, I asked some friends what they thought about the cover. They agreed. I assume that Lee and Cummings' desire in creating this book was to challenge the assumption that fairy tale heroines should be white and to affirm that brown skin and African heritage are beautiful -- extremely important messages. What lesson are we therefore teaching our children when we read them a book in which that brown skin is needlessly lightened?
Later, I showed Beauty and the Beast to one of my professors, and she asked me if I'd heard of a book called Liar.
Written by Australian author Justine Larbalestier, Liar is a young adult novel whose protagonist, Micah, is a biracial teenage girl. However, the original cover of the American version of the book depicted a white girl.
Many readers (and the author herself) were understandably confused about the cover art and began debating the issue and expressing their concern. Finally, the publisher Bloomsbury responded to public pressure and Larbalestier's requests and changed the cover to portray Micah as she is described.