The Color of Home, by Mary Hoffman

  • by Mary Hoffman
  • Illustrated by Karin Littlewood
  • Publisher and date: Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2002
  • Genres: fiction
  • Age/Grade:ages 4-8
Synopsis: (from
This remarkably moving picture book follows first-grader Hassan through his first few days at school. Hassan has only recently arrived in the United States after he and his family were forced to flee Somalia, and he deeply misses the colorful landscape of his former home in Africa. But with the help of his parents, an understanding teacher, and a school art project, Hassan finds that by painting a picture of his old home and sharing his story, his homesickness and the trauma of leaving a war-torn country are lessened. And he finds that there are many things to like about his new home in America. The colorful, impressionistic illustrations are a perfect complement to the wonderful text by Mary Hoffman, author of the highly acclaimed Amazing Grace. Together art and text make this poignant story accessible and affecting for a young audience.

Author’s perspective:

Mary Hoffman does not write this book with an insider’s perspective, but I still find the book to be a valuable addition to my multicultural library. From Mary Hoffman’s website: The story for The Colour of Home was made up by me but based on the experiences of lots of asylum-seekers who became my friends.

Literary Elements:

Character – Hassan is similar to many of the children in my school. He is a refugee from Somali, going through many of the same fears, worries, and adjustments that newcomers got through.

Theme – Fitting in, communication, family, artistic expression

Illustrations – The illustrations beautifully reflect the emotions Hassan feels throughout the story.

Curriculum Connections:

Web Resources:


From School Library Journal (from:
K-Gr 2-Hassan, a recent immigrant from Somalia, is homesick on his first day of school in America. Though the teacher is nice and the children are friendly, adjusting to a new culture, especially a different language, is a struggle. When the teacher distributes art supplies, Hassan discovers a way to communicate. He paints two pictures- one to share the story of his life in Somalia, and another that depicts his hope for a bright future in his new home. Readers gain a realistic child’s perspective on what it is like to be forced to emigrate from a war-torn country. The sensitively told story also demonstrates the value of art therapy in helping children to make the transition to a new environment. Littlewood’s impressionistic watercolor illustrations, many of them spreads, beautifully convey Hassan’s sadness, fear, and ultimate happiness. A title that will spark classroom discussion.-Ajokei T. I. Kokodoko, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

From Kirkus Reviews (

A picture is worth a thousand words and, in this case, helps a young immigrant Somali boy make the transition into his new culture. American school boards could learn much about enlightened mentoring through how the teacher finds resources to welcome Hassan, the boy with no English but plenty of artistic expression. European schools daily deal with great migrations of displaced people from other cultures and this is a classic example of how they cope. Showing how the door is opened to school as in life by way of a simple narrative, Hoffman—who gave the world another victorious child in Amazing Grace (1991)—prepares Hassan for a time when he will accept a new home that at the moment looks a bit gray and drab to him. Through painting in class, he tells his own colorful but tragic story, opening his heart to allow himself to see all the colors surrounding him. Littlewood, a Greenaway nominee for Swallow Journey (2001), carries the metaphor with her colorful and layered watercolors that evoke Hassan’s psychological landscape. Her pictures are loose—one might say unstable—moving at second glance with all the color and light that create a comfort zone for the young boy’s predicament. The subtext of Hassan’s family as persecuted Muslims might give children pause to find a new perspective on today’s headlines. (Picture book. 4-8 )


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