Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Whole New View

To this day the lure is still strong.  Walking past the section of the store displaying the boxes of Crayola crayons without slowing down is not an option.  You find yourself suddenly stopping to comprehend all the various shades and number of hues in each box.

You remember when getting the coveted box of sixty-four was the best day ever.  You and your neighborhood pals would gather on a blanket underneath the big maple tree in your front yard to color and draw all day long.  Pocket Full of Colors: The magical world of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 29, 2017) written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville with illustrations by Brigette Barrager presents the story of an observant young girl who gathered color and then as a grown woman took great joy in releasing it out into the world.

Under a wide blue sky,
on a red dirt road,
in a lemon-yellow house,
there lived a little girl named Mary.

Mary saw all the colors swirling in the world around her, noting the hue of every single one.  When her parents moved the family west, Mary kept those colors from her home with her, excited to find more.  As they traveled through the desert, finally arriving in California, she had tones from rock and sand, ocean and rows of fruit trees.  Even the city with its tall buildings yielded more shades.   And she saved them in her sketchbook.

When she grew up and studied art, she met another artist named Lee. (They were married for forty-four years before Mary died.)  The Great Depression made it hard to sell the kind of art they painted but Mary and her eye for color caught someone's attention.  That person was Walt Disney.  Mary was one of the first women hired to work at Walt Disney Studios.

The men at Walt Disney Studios did not have Mary's vision for vibrancy.  They were stuck in a black and white rut.  Walt Disney highly favored Mary's work, taking her and other artists to South America to complete research.  Now Mary was more determined than ever to have her colorful ideas make it to the screen; some did, most did not.  So Mary left.

She began to work her magic in various graphic design projects, set designs for the entertainment industry and illustrating children's books, but Walt Disney had an idea and he wanted Mary to come back.  On her own terms Mary returned.  Mary made his dream a reality, using her gift of gathering colors to create a work of art still amazing all who see it today.

Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville penned an outstanding portrait of a remarkable woman.  They directed their focus on her singular use of color using it to link all the defining moments in her life together.  From the second sentence in this narrative, almost like an opening line in a musical piece, all the other portions (melodies) come back to those words.

These authors also talk about the reception Mary received with her art at Walt Disney Studios working as one of the first women hired there.  This is important to note.  Mary did not waiver from her style or vision which eventually earned her respect from other creators.  Mary, like so many women, was a champion ahead of her time, paving the way for others.  Here is a sample passage from this book.

She tried, but her colors were too vivid, too wild.
When Mary turned in her work, all her ideas were rejected.

Twinkling emerald skies?
The men turned them blue.

Magenta horses that could fly?
The men made them brown
and put them in stables.

Peach giraffes with tangerine spots?

Her bosses just shook their heads.
They didn't know what to make 
of her art.

When you hold this book in your hands, opening the matching dust jacket and book case, you know you are holding a memorable title about a memorable woman.  The bold, lively colors and images streaming from Mary as she works beckon readers to open the cover.  We want to know about Mary Blair and her life.  To the left, on the back, Mary as a little girl is seated with her sketchbook, painting.  Colors burst from the page.  She is framed in the names of seventeen hues.

The opening and closing endpapers are like a quilt of squares representative of Mary's lines, palette and shapes.  The title page, like the jacket and case, has the word colors done in different shades.  A watercolor box with a cup of water and brushes sits beneath the secondary title text.

Rendered digitally by Brigette Barrager these illustrations nearly pop off the pages.  Most of the single and double-page pictures extend page edge to page edge.  Varying perspectives always bring us close to Mary and her color collecting.

You will be completely captivated by the layout, design and yes, her use of color.  As Mary moves through her life, the research to depict accurate clothing and hair styles is evident.  The inclusion of small intricate elements from the past is wonderful.  You will find yourself, after several reads of the book, going back to look over the visuals separately.

To pick a single favorite illustration is nearly impossible but when you turn the page representing her trip with Walt Disney to South America, you will nearly gasp at the array of color and scenery.  For this picture Brigette Barrager begins with a background of greens and the brilliant flora and birds of the rain forests extending it across the gutter to rich magenta, pink, purple and blue within city scenes with mountains in the background beneath a blazing sun.  All the colors flow one into the other.  And Mary?  She is seated on the left leaning over a canvas, brush in hand and other brushes at her feet.  All the color extends from the tip of her brush.

How fortunate are we readers that authors Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville with illustrator Brigette Barrager collaborated to create Pocket Full of Colors: The magical world of Mary Blair.  The work of Mary Blair lives on in her children's books still in print, in her artwork on display, in Walt Disney movies and in the It's A Small World around the world.  A two page Authors' Note provides further information.   I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Amy Guglielmo, Jacqueline Tourville and Brigette Barrager please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  As a tribute on her 100th birthday Google made a doodle for Mary Blair.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other selections by bloggers this week who are participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Lovely and colorful review! I feel the same way about a box of 64 and Brigette's incredible art. Mary Blair is such an inspiration!

    1. After reading this book (and still at this moment) I have a deep desire for a box of 64. Yes, Mary Blair paved the way for a new outlook.

  2. I have to admit that I still am deeply in love with crayons - I have now graduated to oil pastels and to watercolour pencils. This looks like a lovely colourful book. :)

    1. I have a new set of colored pencils too Myra. I need to sit down and give them a try. I still love a new box of crayons, even the smell of them are laden with memories.