When you work with younger children, sometimes you feel as though you are in the presence of those with the attention spans of fleas. It's like it's non-existent. Experience and those very same children will teach you, it's not about having an attention span of a particular length but about greeting the world with infinite curiosity. They don't want to miss a single thing so they move from thought to thought and place to place like a butterfly in a flower garden.
A single word in a discussion with a child will trigger another concept seemingly different but somehow connected. Holding this child wonder of discovery in our minds even into adulthood can make all the difference. Living near the shores of Lake Michigan teaches you the color of the water changes daily. Two days ago, the blue was brilliant. Yesterday the water looked like it was dusted with a glowing white due to the air conditions and angle of the sun. Color is constantly changing. In her first picture book, Caldecott Honor winner Jillian Tamaki addresses how one child views the color in her world. They Say Blue (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 13, 2018) is a joyful journey you will want to take repeatedly.
They say blue is the
color of the sky.
A young girl sitting on the sand at a beach has to agree with this statement. The sea is blue today, too. It is not blue when she scoops it up in her hands. As she plays and drifts in the water she wonders about the color of a blue whale. It's hard to know what is true and what is not true if you've never seen something with your own eyes.
With the lightning leap a child's thought process can make she acknowledges her belief in the hue of an egg yolk and the blood coursing through her veins. In a wondrous shift of imagination she sees golden grasses as waves upon which a lighter than light boat can float. The gray of a storm washes away those thoughts.
A small bit of color in the rainy gloom of the day has her pausing in her walk home from school. With this tiny announcement she's certain the seasons are changing; the colors are altering too. Running outside she becomes a part of the natural world.
In her newly acquired shape she enjoys summer, autumn and winter. The calm of winter with the world at rest brings her home to sleep. She's still noticing the colors in her immediate surroundings and outside her bedroom window. It's a new day with new opportunities to embrace.
When you read this narrative you can easily see Jillian Tamaki has retained the child wonder of discovery. Her sentences reflect the thoughts, movements and imagination of this little girl perfectly. The depiction of how color is perceived is remarkably accurate allowing her audience to easily connect to the child with great understanding. Here are two sentences.
But when I hold the
water in my hands, it's
as clear as glass.
I toss it up in
the air to make
In a marvelous display the scene on the front of the dust jacket of the child, a young girl, moving her balance from foot to foot, stretching to reach the whirl of black crows extends with excellence over the spine to the left, on the back, and to the edge of each flap. The texture of the swirling blue, golden yellow and hints of purple look like marble. With little effort you can hear the crows calling to each other or inviting the girl to join them. Her black hair is lifted like their wings.
On the book case you might gasp at the blend of black crows and white sea gulls amid shades of blue, orange, red and a tiny bit of purple. The color frames the flight of the birds. The opening endpapers are concentric bands of yellow and orange. At the back on the closing endpapers the center point shifts as does the color. These colors continue on the page turn opposite the title page in the beginning and opposite the verso with a final illustration at the end.
Jillian Tamaki begins at the beach, moves masterfully to a school yard, a ride home on the bus, a rain storm and then a powerful imaginative journey before returning the child to her bedroom. The illustrations she creates using a combination of acrylic paint on watercolor paper and Photoshop are unique to this specific girl but also universal to many of us. There is a special quality to her technique. Even in stillness we feel the movement of life and its inhabitants.
One of my many favorite illustrations extends over two pages as almost all of them do. The girl at the beach, wearing a red, one piece bathing suit, steps into the water, hands together and cupped to look at the water she holds. From there she leans down and moves forward swimming before she leaps into the air. She splashes water in great arcs around her. Her head is lifted and her mouth is open in sheer happiness. (How many times have you done this? Or how many times have you seen children doing this?)
Like the girl in They Say Blue written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, your spirit will soar as she comes to one realization after another. By the time you close the cover the same happiness she feels will fill you completely. As a story time read aloud or a one-on-one bedtime choice this book will prompt wonderful discussions about color and point of view. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Jillian Tamaki and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. Jillian maintains an Instagram account. At the publisher's website you can view interior images. Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, reveals the cover and has a chat with Jillian on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Editor Roger Sutton talks with Jillian about this title at The Horn Book. Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson features this book on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast following a post at Kirkus.