Colin Kaepernick Has Written a New Children’s Book About Identity and Race: NPR


I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

When Colin Kaepernick was five years old, his kindergarten teacher gave his class an assignment: draw a picture of your family.

Kaepernick colored his entire family yellow. When he came to, he used the brown pencil.

“What I realized while drawing my family was that in my whole class, I was the only one who didn’t look like the rest of my family,” says Kaepernick, who is black and adopted into a white family.

This seemingly simple mission turned out to be a pivotal moment for how Kaepernick viewed his identity. He also became the inspiration, many years later, for his first children’s book, I color myself differently.

In the book, a little boy named Colin reads on the floor, throws a soccer ball in the park, and generally thinks it’s “super cool” that not many people look like him. “I have super cool skin, super cool hair and a super cool family,” Kaepernick writes. “Sometimes it’s not easy, but to be one of a kind is really amazing.”

When the kindergarten class receives the homework, young Colin is eager to show his drawing. Until his comrades ask him:

“Why are you the only brunette in your family?” »

“Why did you color yourself differently? »

Colin freezes – at first – because he realizes that his normal registers are “different” for the others. But then he says to his class:

“I’m brunette. I color myself differently! I’m me and I’m gorgeous!”

“I love that we have an anthem in there,” Kaepernick says, “or a hook. Because it feels like something young kids can take away and use.”


I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

It’s a positive and encouraging moment, especially when Colin’s classmates and his black teacher step in to support him. Kaepernick says it was the same for him in real life too.

“This is the first documented case I have in my life of definitely identifying as brown,” Kaepernick says. “And laying the groundwork for my identity as Black.”

Colin Kaepernick is best known for being a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, where he played from 2011 to 2016. He was the NFL’s most vocal protester regarding police brutality and racial inequality in the United States, and he has also worked in community organizing. He founded Kaepernick Publishing in 2019 and announced a multi-book publishing deal with Scholastic. I color myself differently is the first children’s book by Kaepernick and the illustrator Eric Wilkerson.


I color myself differently

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing


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Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

“I’ve seen Eric’s previous work and…there are a few things that immediately jumped out,” Kaepernick says. “One was his ability to create emotion with his illustrations and really bring that to life…He was able to create beautiful scenes in their entirety.”

Wilkerson comes from the entertainment world — he’s worked in film, advertising, and video games — and used Adobe Photoshop for these illustrations.

“The first thing I wanted to do was give the characters a stylization that made them look… more like stills from an animated movie,” Wilkerson explains. “I wanted you to feel like you’re turning every page…and it’s like someone just paused the movie.”

One of Kaepernick’s favorite illustrations is young Colin standing with his shoulders back, chin up, chest out, grinning. The whole image evokes confidence. Wilkerson explains that it’s intentional — it’s called the “low-angle hero pose.”

All of the illustrations are bright and colorful, with lots of bold reds and desaturated blues. Wilkerson and Kaepernick collaborated closely on the look of the main character, Colin. Kaepernick sent in some grainy childhood photos. They often worked on the artwork together, over Zoom, with Wilkerson making adjustments in real time.

“We talked in depth about the facial style, the shape of his nose, the ears, the hairstyle, the hair texture,” says Wilkerson. He didn’t want the main character to be an exact resemblance to Kaepernick, but there is definitely a resemblance.


Image of I color myself differently

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

Image of I color myself differently

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

For this book, Wilkerson also recreated Kaepernick’s original childhood artwork, which is included on the back of the book.

“He really did me a favor,” Kaepernick laughs.

He describes his original design thus: “The bodies are round, the necks are quite long”, he says. “The heads are quite big and round…thick legs and triangle-shaped feet. I tried drawing hearts in there, but they look a bit like tomatoes, maybe apples. No arms at all.”

The best part of the drawing, says Kaepernick, is the little Lhasa Apso, Kiwi.

Wilkerson gave it a professional upgrade and a personal touch. “I was physically holding a pencil the wrong way up and then trying to draw with it,” he says. “But also give me only 2 minutes to do it.” He asked the children of his friends and family to draw, then he scanned their work for the book.

“So even my daughter drew our whole family and it’s on the class bulletin board in the book,” Wilkerson says. “I was so thrilled that we were able to put that in there.” He also used his daughter as a role model for young Colin.

“The cover is basically, you know, her outside holding a diary,” he says.

Kaepernick’s nieces, Leilani and Knysna Reid, also helped I color myself differently. “Part of the inspiration for this book was that I was reading books to my niece, Knysna,” Kaepernick explains. “A lot of the books just didn’t have characters that looked like him.”

Leilani and Knysna illustrated the end pages with a series of hearts, a unicorn, the sun, Kaepernick’s jersey number, and smiling people.

“To think of two young black girls being able to see their work in a published book and from a young age being able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I got my work published. Now what else can I do? You see how it starts to open up possibilities for them, just mentally, where they can go and what they can do,” says Kaepernick.


I color myself differently, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing


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Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing


I color myself differently, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

Kaepernick says he paid so much attention to every detail in this book. He wanted to make sure his message was clear: being different is “super cool”, but being different is also normal.

“Growing up in a white city and a white population or white spaces, you’re constantly the fly in the buttermilk,” he says. “And that was actually one of the things we talked about… how to address the fact that I’m adopted and different in my family, but also making sure that we don’t position Black as different, or brown as different .”

So he made sure that the books young Colin reads on the front page represent a range of possibilities, including one about space, coding, and a superhero comic. It was important that Mrs. Musa, the kindergarten teacher, was a black woman with an African name, and that the best friend who stepped in to support Colin was black.

“They may seem like small pieces, but in the grand scheme of things they represent a lot,” Kaepernick said. Ultimately, he and Eric Wilkerson hope this book will help kids feel less alone.

“What I love about being different is that you don’t feel like a replica,” Kaepernick says. “I can be unique. I can be myself and…I can just be free in that sense.”


I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

I Color Myself Different, written by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

Scholastic/Kaepernick Publishing

Samantha Balaban and Melissa Gray produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

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