Tag Archives: Sharon Flake

A Deeper Story Lies Underneath: The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake


failure of an invention

by Safiya Henderson-Holmes

i am not any of the faces

you have put on me America

every mask has slipped

i am not any of the names

or sounds you have called me

the tones have nearly

made me deaf

this dark skin, both of us

have tried to bleach

i can smell the cancer.

this thick hair, these thick lips

both of us have tried to narrow

begging entrance through

the needle of your eye

some of me broken

in the squeeze

and even as i carry

a bone of yours in my back

your soul America no matter what we’ve tried

I’ve never been able to bear

color2Flake, Sharon. The Skin I’m In. Perfection Learning: 2007. 978-0756984687.

Maleeka Madison is a young girl who is not comfortable in her own skin.  She is teased by her peers for her skin color and her handmade clothes.  It isn’t until an English teacher named Miss Saunders comes along and teaches her to acknowledge the beauty on the inside and the outside.  Miss Saunders has a condition known as vitiligo.  It causes her skin to look imperfect in others’ eyes.  But Miss Saunders does not let what others think bother her.  She tries to get Maleeka to feel the same way, but Maleeka is trying to fit in with the in crowd.  The in crowd clowns Miss Saunders every day, so Maleeka follows suit.  As Maleeka digs deeper into a writing assignment that entails the diary of a slave girl, she begins the quest of loving herself.

This novel works well on many levels.  There is a cultural connection.  The color complex is a social and cultural construct that is unfortunately included in the fabric of many cultures.  The historical implications of the light vs. dark have sown many weeds into a person’s self-esteem.  In African American literature, the issue of color has been around since Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry & Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Flake’s writing style draws adolescents in because she connects Maleeka’s plight to the common angst of being a teenager:  fitting in.  Whether it is weight, clothes, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or color, teens have to deal with something about them that disqualifies them to be a part of the popular clique.  Flake’s use of the vernacular also engages adolescents more into the storyline.  My students enjoyed the tension between Maleeka and Char, Maleeka’s “friend.”

An assignment that I had my students do after reading this novel was a collage of their definition of beauty.  The various, visual interpretations amazed me and became a counter narrative to the message society advocates.







Text-to-Text Connections (The following novels and short story collection deal with self-image, race,mixed race, and transgender adolescents.  They would be perfect to pair up with The Skin I’m In  because the characters in each book struggle with balancing or negating society’s perceptions of them.)

step to this  Step to This by Nikki Carter


flavor of the weekFlavor of the Week by Tucker Shaw


you are freeYou Are Free:  Stories by Danzy Senna


skinnySkinny by Ibi Kaslik


shrink to fitShrink to Fit  Dona Sarkar


luna-julie-anne-peters2 Luna    Julie Anne Peters



Filed under Uncategorized

No Color, No Gender, Nothing Can Hold Her Back: Flygirl By Sherri L. Smith

FLYGIRLSmith, Sherri L.  Flygirl.  $7.99.  Penguin Books/Speak: 2008. 978-0-14-241725-6.   Ida is one determined eighteen-year-old.  Tired of living on her family’s farm, collecting silk stockings, and cleaning houses, she feels the open sky calling her.  Flying is in her blood.  Her father flew crop duster planes when he was alive and taught her how to fly.  Her brother was already serving as a WWII medic.  It is her time to shine.  But race and color pose a problem.  Well, not for people like Ida.

Ida’s drive and determination enables her to devise a plan.  She would pass as white and join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) organization.  Ida succeeds and adapts to the culture and expectations of the organization.  But she realizes passing comes with a price.  She alienates herself from her best friend, Jolene.

She strains her relationship with her mother, especially when Ida has to refer to her mother as a housekeeper during a family visit to the field. Ida consistently has to stay in character and wear a mask.  Every part of her charade must be intact because one little slip-up could betray her real identity.  Can you imagine having to hold it together?  The lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” come to mind http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html :

                               Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

In the skies, Ida doesn’t have to worry about the farce.  Her ability to handle a plane is what matters.  The sky symbolizes freedom.  It provides the catalyst for her to be who she really is.

womanlutionpress logo(Clip art designed by Mike Smith)

Middle grade and adolescent readers will constantly wonder if Ida will be discovered as they engage in the storyline.  Through Smith’s deft development and description of Ida’s character, readers will want to emulate this strong teen.

Discovering Its Educational Value

Text-to-Text Connections

Here are just a few classic, contemporary, and young adult novels that could be paired with Flygirl:

  • Product DetailsTsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions–a postcolonial novel African novel set in Rhodesia that deals with a young girl trying to come of age under the scope of European expectations of beauty and gender. It can be tied into Ida’s ruse of trying to fit in with the WASPs by passing white and how it affects her and her relationships. http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/nervousconditions.html
  • Product DetailsSharon Flake, Money Hungry— a young adult novel that traces Raspberry’s ambition to earn money any way she can despite her circumstances.  Her drive and determination mirror Ida’s. http://www.sharongflake.com/books/money/

Educational Resources

These resources give additional information that ties into the historical connections within Flygirl:

What other novels, stories, and/or memoirs can you think of that feature women or young teens who have the drive and determination that Ida possesses?


Filed under Uncategorized