Belonging is an eternal struggle for most of us, especially in our youth. Using simplicity in both illustration and story Leo Lionni tells a touching story about belonging, friendship and acceptance. A Color of His Own starts out with the universal truth that “all animals have a color of their own”
Except for Chameleons1. Chameleons, we learn, change color wherever they go. Lionni catalogs the various circumstances upon which chameleons might change color, including the haiku-like line “and on the tiger they are striped like tigers.” And it is, in fact, on such a tiger that we meet our protagonist -the chameleon who longs for a color of his own.
So he decides to stay put, hoping that physical stasis will result in the color fastness he so desires. Unfortunately, he decides that if he remains on a leaf he will be green forever. Of course:
Oops. Had the chameleon simply chosen, say, a red wagon his wish may have come true2. After a long winter of discontent, Spring comes and he meets an older, wiser chameleon. Plaintively he queries, “Won’t we ever have a color of our own?3:
The older chameleon, full of understanding4, breaks the news softly. No, they will never have a color of their own, but if they stick together they will share both color and solace in their solidarity. And so it is that the chameleons change color wherever they go. They are yellow together, purple together and red with white polka dots together. And like many good stories, they live happily ever after5.
1 And certain marine invertebrates, iguanas and maybe a few others. Are we gonna split hairs?
2 At least until the decision to stay one color or starve presented itself. Maybe it’s better he chose a leaf…
3 What is he expecting? Some sort of Chameleon civil rights movement?
4 It must be that all chameleons pass through this phase and only age and experience bring acceptance.
5 Or, as the Beatles remind us – “All you need is love.”