Vikki Young Appreciates Similarities, Differences, and Color

Most concept books that introduce colors to very young readers stick with the artistic palette, but New Jersey author Vikki Young strove to push the format in a direction that encourages readers of all backgrounds to feel at home within the pages. “A Girl of Color was specifically conceived to address and show appreciation not only for people’s differences, but also for their sameness,” Young explains. “I wanted the book to have a strong theme of diversity and inclusiveness in a way…that young children could understand and relate to, as I think it is so relevant and necessary that they be recognized in our world today.”

A Girl of Color, which Kirkus Reviews considers “a bright and joyful celebration of the kaleidoscope of colors,” introduces young readers to Morgan, who is Black—but, as she explains: 

Black is the color of the dark night. And my skin is golden brown…like the sun-kissed leaves of autumn. My best friend is white. But white is the color of snow. And her skin looks pretty peachy to me.

From that initial discussion, Morgan describes more metaphorical colors for moods, dressing in ones that match her descriptions. She doesn’t stop with the hues of a rainbow, either, but includes plaids, dots, and stripes before returning to the idea that people have a rainbow of shades on their skin as well. The combination of brightly drawn illustrations, using colors to represent emotions, and applying Morgan’s love of colors to the beauty of the wide range of skin tones that surround the narrator works very effectively to introduce all those ideas in tandem, braiding in the world’s brightness and the diversity of its people.

The character Morgan was inspired by Young’s own daughter, who is also “colorful and creative,” according to the author. As Morgan appears in the book, she is intentionally portrayed as strong, happy, and confident. Her love of colors helps her express her feelings—something that her family reinforces in the ways they describe her.

The family plays a very important role in the book as well; Morgan has a mother and father, two loving grandparents, and a brother, all of whom help her identify the colors around her with emotional connection and belonging. For example, her grandmother tells Morgan that the young girl brightens the day “like the yellow morning sun,” and one of the standout illustrations shows Morgan experimenting with her mother’s red lipstick while her mother, who has a vividly shocked expression, stands in the background. “It was an important addition for me to bring her family to life in the book,” Young explains.

As a child, Young was not as carefree as the book version of Morgan. Instead, the author grew up “too quickly” on Chicago’s South Side. Loving to read and already dreaming of writing, Young spent time on the shores of Lake Michigan, frequently writing at the beach. She became a wife and mother right out of high school, bringing her childhood to a close; her marriage didn’t last, but she became a successful co-parent. She remarried later on, becoming stepmother to her husband’s two sons and raising another son and daughter. Young is proud of her children, considering them to be her greatest accomplishments, and one of her grandchildren inspired her first book, I Too Allergic: Joshua’s Story

Given the importance of family in Young’s life, it’s no surprise that it is so central to Morgan’s worldview. But while the presence of the family was important, for their depictions, Young allowed illustrator Seitu to make decisions. “I provided him with descriptions, then [gave] him artistic license to do what he does best—illustrate,” Young shares of her process. “I described the images to him that I wanted to see for each page, and for the most part, it seemed as though he was envisioning the same [ones] I saw in my mind with just a few minor tweaks here and there.”

Seitu’s vision of Morgan’s family and friends matches the core theme of Young’s book: The characters appear in a variety of colors, from their clothing to their skin tones. Morgan’s mother has a lighter shade of skin, but her hair color is the same as Morgan’s own. Morgan and her father share the same skin color, but his hair is much darker. Her brother’s curly hair is close in texture to their grandfather’s white hair. Despite their visions clicking so well together, Young and Seitu never met in person over the process of creating the book. “We communicated often by phone, text, and email,” Young says. “He was a dream to work with and took many opportunities to showcase his vast talent and imagination. I credit him tremendously for bringing life to my story so colorfully, and like music to words, he hit every note perfectly.”

As A Girl of Color ends, Morgan is shown with fellow children from all over the world holding hands around a globe. The final page features the text “The End / Or maybe The Beginning.” That type of hook could very easily entice readers to expect another book featuring the irrepressible, color-loving girl. Young’s intent wasn’t necessarily to lead into a sequel, however. Instead, “more than suggesting that there will be more Morgan adventures (though I certainly am not leaving that possibility out), I wanted the story’s end to express my vision of optimism that children are our hope for our world’s future,” Young explains. 

That’s why that final image is so poignant: Morgan, her peachy friend, her brother, and other children of color all over the world are Young’s idea of what the world could look like. Those children, in traditional clothing representing their nations, hold hands together with a smile, giving a sense that in the future Young envisions, the world is in good hands.

Alana Joli Abbott writes about pop culture, fantasy and science fiction, and children’s books.