Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Color of his Own

A Color Of His Own book review leo lionni chameleon self-acceptance children's literatureA Color Of His Own
by Leo Lionni
Ages: 4-8+ years

The cover image - with its bright vibrant colors against a stark white background, of a chameleon with a dubious expression - first caught my attention.

The simple text sheltering a profound message urged me to bring it home to read it to my kids.

The chameleon is aching for immutability. Having his colors constantly change, depending on his mood or environment, has become tiresome for him. He envies the gray elephant and the pink pig and the green parrot who have an unambiguous color identity.

So, he decides to stay put on the greenest of green leaves so he can stay green forever and get to be known as the green chameleon, with a color of his own.

However, when autumn comes, the de-chlorophylled leaf turns yellow and so does the chameleon. And when the leaf takes it a step further in its seasonal pageantry and turns red, so does the chameleon, possibly involuntarily. And when the winter gusts blow the leaf down, and the chameleon with it, he decides that black is his color for winter.

When spring comes around, so does the chameleon, thanks to a rather charming and heart-warming encounter which is a treat to read aloud.

The chameleon's search for his own unique color leads to self-acceptance when he meets a wiser and older chameleon who offers comfort with, "We will still change color wherever we go, but you and I will always be alike."

The message in this book is universal: With our wide spectrum of emotions, interests, likes and dislikes (our colors), we are constantly trying to answer the Who am I? (What is my color?) question, while trying to blend in and feel accepted, regardless of age or ethnicity.

Not only does the book appeal to kids dealing with self-esteem and self-identity issues, it also shows how wonderful it is to find a friend with whom to share all our various colors/moods and be accepted for who we are, and in turn learning to accept what makes us special.

The brilliant water-color art work by Leo Lionni (5 May 1910 — 12 October 1999) makes this book a treat for the eyes: the stark white background helps focus on the brightly colored illustrations on each page, making this one of the few books that appeal equally to my 1½ old and my 4½ year old. The short and smooth text accompanying the illustrations makes it easy to follow.

On an aside: My 4½ year old found it hard to accept that goldfish are red as the book states, having seen them on the orangish side in our home-aquarium from babyhood. But, that opened up a whole new exploration of ideas, not quite intended by the author, I am sure. But, her favorite read-aloud part was when the sad chameleon asks in desperation, "Won't we ever have a color of our own?"

Chameleons have fascinated me from childhood, particularly their chromatophores that gives them the ability to change colors. Of course, technically, chameleons are solitary creatures, quite aggressively territorial. They animatedly deter other chameleons from encroaching on their territory by displaying their menacing colors till the meeker one concedes and leaves the territory.

Facts aside, this deceptively simple book has layers of meaning that can be distilled for the young minds:
  • change is inevitable, so let's find a way to embrace it rather than shun it
  • we may not always get what we want, but we can accept what we have and find happiness
  • we are not alone, we can find others like ourselves who are willing to accept us the way we are
Via its stark, colorful and elegant art work and uncluttered presentation, this book is sure to appeal to kids of all ages.

Leo Lionni's Bio at Greenville Public Library


Choxbox said...

Sounds yummy Sheela and your review as usual is as good. And just last evening we saw a chameleon!

Also makes me think of Colour Colour Kamini (Tulika) that Poppy reviewed some time back.

SoulSpace said...

very well written review.
I like the way you have summarized the books message, the deeper perspective yu have taken from it.

There is a story much like this, called Rupa the Elephant by CBT, which also talks about accepting oneself...though in a slightly different way

Sheela said...

::ChoxBox::Thanks. Yes, after Poppy's review, I picked up Colour Colour Kamini when I was in India this summer! [aside, totally unrelated info - there's 3 degrees of separation between the author Radhika Chaddha and yours truly - family connections :)]

::ssstoryteller:: Thank you. I'd like to check out Rupa the Elephant...

... rather than a sweeping, 'you can do anything if you set your mind to it' which is tough for kids to understand, i like messages that embrace the limitations while reinforcing the positives - leading to acceptance.

Praba Ram said...

Loved every word - elegant and eloquent as always!

Thanks to camouflaging - chameleons seem to have had a good share of celebrity status - made quite a number of appearances in children's literature! :-)

Love Leo Leonni's books! :-)

sathish said...

sheela, very well written.

Ranjani tells a story to the kids very similar to this - a rainbow coloured butterfly who wants to be of only one colour - probably influenced by this book! :)

ranjani.sathish said...

We have read this book too and I agree it is a lovely book ! Very good review Sheela.

Regarding what Sathish has written, the history is that I have to tell a story of MY OWN to Sooraj everyday before he sleeps for the night. No known stories too. So I have to spin a new tale every day
! One such story was the rainbow butterfly. Yes I think I might have been influenced by this story, though it is a long time since I read this :-)

Poppy said...

A fabulous book and review - I *heart* chameleons too - so we're going to definitely read this book.

Meera Sriram said...

A child of nature created just to teach humans some valuable lessons:) A good pick, neatly done, Sheela.

Anusha said...

i think we placed a hold on this book a while back after I read about Leo Lionni - have to check on it.
your review was a delight to read, Sheela!

SoulSpace said...

Sheela I like yr perspec...
Food for thought..thanks

Sheela said...

::Praba:: Thanks! yeah, we've read a couple of Leo Lionni's but this one seemed to resonate with me re message... plus, of course, beautiful artwork. I think I enjoy picture books more than I ought to :)

::Satish:: Thanks! Ah, saw Ranjani's note...

::Ranjani:: How wonderful that you can spin out original yarns! I used to do it for my little cousin - I was in 9th std then - now have started with Ana, years later and rustier. We must pool our resources, exchange notes, feed each other's imagination soon :)

::Poppy::Isn't it strange - I haven't seen a chameleon change color in front of my eyes - have always seen them sort of dirty yellow and muddy - if you spot one, take a picture for me :)

::Meera::Well said! Reptilian creatures give me the creeps usually, but, they too are children of nature and they have something to offer us... beautiful thought, Meera! Enjoyed your review on the other Lionni's book at ST - Little Blue and Little Yellow!

::Kodi's Mom:: Thanks! I hear you... I have so many holds - well 15 as that's the max allowed - and I end up canceling an older one to add newer ones and forget to go back :)

::sstoryteller::Thank you! Your presence here at ST is quite inspiring!

Tharini said...

We will still change color wherever we go, but you and I will always be alike.

God! What a beautiful line that is! I love it! Your tender touches to the chameleon's plight makes this such an irresistible review! I am placing my hold right now!!!

utbtkids said...

We have this book in our class. All the kids simply love it.

The mixed up chameleon by Eric Carle
( is another book with the a similar message.

But Color of his own is slightly different because it touches on the subject of companionship.

Have you read Swimmy by Lionni? I love that book too, strong message.

Poppins said...

Finally we read it Sheels, and just as you said, it appealed to all the children in this house too! An exceptional book

Related Posts with Thumbnails