“Magnificent Homespun Brown” is an ode to the color brown in all its incarnations, as found in the human form and spirit, and also in the greater world. Who knew this color had so much warmth and subtlety and power?

The book is divided into four-page spreads, each of which contains a free-verse poem narrated by a different little girl. Starting with a shade of brown found in nature, each poem ends with a simple phrase connecting it to a physical quality found in the narrator. For example, the poem that starts “Deep secret brown./ Like the subtly churning river currents” concludes with the line “Deep secret brown…like my eyes.” The next little girl’s poem describes “Feathery brown./ Like the jagged shadows/of hemlock branches” and concludes “Feathery brown…like my lashes.” And so on: “Amber brown” is not only like honey, it is “…like my hair,” and “Radiant brown” is like “the flawless surface of/ towering summer sandcastles” and also “…like my skin.” After she’s covered physical traits, writer Samara Cole Doyon broadens her scope to include character traits, as in: “Smooth, creamy brown…like my laughter.” She artfully ends with two poems celebrating browns that are the color of “my power” and “my peace.”

The book is subtitled “A Celebration,” and a celebration it is. And not just of the color brown. It is a gentle, soothing celebration of family, the natural world, and community, whether on a mountain hike with Dad, “breathing out our worries like an offering of prayer”; tucked into a hammock under a homemade quilt, “each inch a poignant memoir”; sharing a candied apple – an “ordinary fruit” transformed by a “flawless flow of caramel”– with a brother at the fall fair; sipping cocoa, a “comfortable cup of liquid dreams,” snuggled on the sofa with the whole family during a snowstorm; making sandcastles on “long easy mornings at the beach” with Mom; or harvesting honey – that “sacred healing elixir”— in Auntie’s yard.

At times the language is so rich, the verbiage so lavish, that I found myself longing for a bit of simplicity and worrying that much of the vocabulary (i.e., words like periodically, industrious, or bounteous) will wash over the heads of young picture book readers.

The poems that comprise “Homespun Brown” are also a celebration of girlhood. The mixed media illustrations by Kaylani Juanita admirably support this celebration and the whole work, stitching the sections together like one of Doyon’s homemade quilts. Juanita embraces all forms of girlhood, bringing to life a bevy of endearing little girls who run the gamut from demure to rambunctious, from tomboy to dreamer. My favorites are the ones with banged-up knees or a cast on one arm. Juanita is equally adept – using the same earth-toned palette throughout – at the backdrops, creating both intimate, cozy indoor settings as well as a wealth of natural scenery ranging from mountain forests and backyard leaf piles, to seasides reminiscent of Maine and Haiti.

Here Juanita seems to be truly channeling the author. Doyon’s background is half Haitian-American and half “deeply rooted Mainer.” She explains in an author’s note that her goal in writing this book “began as a prayer for…children who are multilayered in their racial/ethnic heritage and sometimes feel as painfully out of place as I did” and that she hoped to provide them a “firmly rooted sense of belonging through nature and community.”

The French have an expression, to “be well in your skin.” The girls in this book are not just well in their skins, they are jubilant, adventurous, expressive, joyful, beloved and boisterous. In short, magnificent…like the homespun brown of this book.

Amy MacDonald is a children’s author and freelance writer. She lives on Vinalhaven island.

*Editing note:


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