Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Freedom To Be Wild

As an educator you are entirely focused with heart, soul and mind every single day of the school year.  You are also thinking at the same time of the next year; how you can do things better and what you will need to do to be better.  By the time your classroom is closed for the summer, you are up to your eyebrows in plans for the upcoming year.

While not a top priority but still necessary is gathering materials for all your hands-on projects.  Elementary students really enjoy using crayons.  A huge bag, growing bigger by the year, with well-loved stubs of color is a testament to this fact.  They love being the first one to open a new box of crayons with sharp points and the cardboard stiff from the lack of being used.  (I have to admit to feeling the same way.)

It's as if you are opening a door to a world full of possibilities.  As teachers and parents know, a blank surface is an invitation to a child with a box of crayons.  SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color (Balzar + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, March 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Julia Denos is about a girl who embraces the various hues she sees everywhere every single day.

In a place where colors ran wild, 
there lived a girl who was wilder still.

This wilder-than-colors-wild girl was called Swatch.  In this place she was known as a color tamer.  Although it could be said she was a mere pixie in size, she could mingle among colors making them do her bidding.

She learned to persevere in pursuit of a particular shade.  No nook or cranny was safe from her careful eye.  No color was too small or too large to escape her attention.

She would call colors to her and they willingly came.  Swatch and colors had great respect and affection for each other.  One day, for no special reason, she beckoned a color to her, placed it in a jar and asked it to remain.  It did.

To keep it company she began collecting a wide assortment of colors in containers.  Her room looked like a swirling rainbow.  She still had one final brilliant hue to gather to the group.

This radiant rambunctious color had other notions.  Swatch's senses were elevated to new glorious heights.  To be wild is to be free.  To be free is to be wild.  In this freedom and wildness wonders are wrought.

When you look about your world, inside and outside, the range of colors is determined by many factors which seem to fluctuate from moment to moment.  Julia Denos depicts this spontaneity in her opening sentence.  Her descriptions of Swatch, the colors (and their names) and their relationship make us feel as though the two are parts of a glorious whole.  When additional dialogue is introduced into the story their connection becomes more personal for us and for Swatch.  Our understanding grows along with her understanding.  Here is a sample passage.

Swatch had never thought of capturing a color until
the day she lured Just-Laid Blue straight from its
nest and into a jam jar.
"Stay," Swatch said,
and the color stayed.
How beautiful it looked behind glass!
"You could use a friend," she said to Blue.

The swirl of blue and pink on the back of the matching dust jacket and book case moves to cross the spine joined by a flurry of fluttering butterflies on the back and the front.  Like a magician with a wand Swatch has gathered colors to her to weave a spell of beauty.  Her skip of joy and happy expression announce her passion for her work.  On the opening and closing endpapers Julia Denos has painted a background of the blue on the first and the pink on the second. The verso and title pages are a spectacular wave of pink which Swatch is riding like a surfer.  Portions of the natural world appear beneath the mass of color; trees and flowers.

Rendered in watercolor, pen and ink and pencil with Adobe Photoshop the illustrations dance with high energy spanning two pages for most of them; some on single pages.  There is motion in each image.  A flawless flow connects the colors to Swatch and she to them.

The body postures on Swatch convey her lively soul.  Her hair, clothing, paint spattered face, body and clothing and facial features enrich our knowledge of who this color tamer truly is. Viewing her in various perspectives, close to us and farther away, complements the pacing.

One of my favorite of many images is the two pages showing her capturing Blue in the jar.  Blue leaves frame the entire picture.  In the lower left-hand corner is a large nest holding three eggs.  From that to the right are two branches of the tree.  On one branch, on her hands and knees, Swatch is holding the jar as blue swoops inside.  Above her on the other branch is her cat leaning over to touch the blue with a paw.  They both have a circle of blue around one of their eyes.

As you read the final text and illustration, whether it's the first time or the tenth, you feel your entire being uplifted like a symphony building and reaching a crescendo.  SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color written and illustrated by Julia Denos is a hoopla of happiness.  This has a party within its pages to commemorate the delight of discovery.

To learn more about Julia Denos and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and her blog.  You can read a sample from the book by going to the publisher's website. The Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher, has Julia Denos on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read., for a guest post and book trailer reveal.  Julia Denos chats with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at All The Wonders, Episode 256. Sturdy For Common Things highlights this title and includes face painting.

You can follow Julia Denos on Twitter at @JuliaDraw and on Instagram 


  1. Great review, Margie! I'll be picking this one up from the library over the weekend, and now I'm even more excited about it! :)

  2. Thank you Maria! I am thrilled you are going to be able to read it soon. It will set you free.