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They say blue
Book
2018
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

modern-day Tastemakers, unlike their forebears, shower love on comics and graphic novels without a hint of condescension. This is true even of works intended mainly for children, a category that includes - let's be honest - most of the superhero sagas that dominate pop culture's most lucrative precincts. I'm not complaining, by the way (I love comics too), just observing. But picture books are another story. Even the genius likes of Beatrix Potter and Maurice Sendak are shunted off to the critical equivalent of the Thanksgiving kids' table, smiled at but not often engaged with. Yet the best picture books, far from being baby food, display a pictorial sophistication that puts many graphic novels to shame; think of them as visual haiku, an art form of juxtaposition and implication, bright colors notwithstanding. And here are three examples to prove the point - books full of surface delight that also reward close reading. Kids might love them, but I'm guessing all three will resonate even more with grown-ups. Standing in the outfield and waiting to catch a high fly ball is among the more agonizing but ubiquitous rituals of American childhood: not quite as dire as doctors' shots or puberty, but still bad. (That anyone sticks with baseball long enough to get good at it is a tribute to either the human spirit or masochism.) In I GOT IT! (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 32 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8), David Wiesner slows time down and finds a world of drama in those five or so hellish seconds between ball leaving bat and settling - or not - into mitt. Surely even capable athletes will relate to the interplay between body and mind, muscle and emotion, which "I Got It!" captures with beauty, fluidity, wit and suspense. Wiesner is the only three-time winner of the Caldecott Medal - for "Ttiesday" (1991), "The Three Pigs" (2001) and "Flotsam" (2006). Like most of his books, "I Got It! " is wordless, apart from the title phrase, which appears first as aspirational shout and once again, many pages later, as triumphant cry. (I hope that's not a spoiler, but Wiesner is no Charles Schulz.) The hero is a boy who, when we first see him, is standing on the wrong side of a backstop fence, longing to join a sandlot game. He looks to be a year or two younger than the rest of the kids; a team captain banishes him to the farther reaches of the field, somewhere around Pluto's orbit, where he can presumably do no harm. But the inevitable ball is hit his way, and Wiesner's illustrations begin to shift subtly between actual playing field and interior landscape. In the boy's mind, as he races to make the catch, he suffers several catastrophic failures. Then, as teammates also converge on the ball, he takes flight in a rush of surreal images - focus emerging amid fear and distraction. Like René Magritte, Wiesner has a precise and realistic style that makes his leaps into the weird all the more effective, though it took me a few passes to figure out how to read the illustrations, the flitting between literal and figurative. As with any good wordless picture book, "I Got It!" should provoke many discussions - not just about doubt and perseverance, but also about creative visual storytelling. The kids will soon be ready for Terrence Malick and Wong Kar-wai. While the sky is a key supporting player in "I Got It!," the sea is a true co-star in Sophie Blackall's HELLO LIGHTHOUSE (Little, Brown, 48 pp., $18.99; ages 4 to 8). Blackall's ocean is variously placid, rippling, luminescent, angry, violent, frozen, gray, green, cerulean, black; her waters surge and recede, but her red and white lighthouse and its bearded, contemplative keeper remain stolid and constant - until they don't. I will be surprised if a more exquisite picture book is published this year. Blackall is another Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator, in 2015 for "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear" (written by Lindsay Mattick). She is also known for drawing Ivy and Bean, stars of the best-selling chapter book series by Annie Barrows. Here, her illustrations evoke American folk art, early Renaissance painting and traditional Japanese seascapes, but in a synthesis all her own. The story is straightforward: a slice-oflife narrative about working and living on a remote lighthouse, spanning maybe a decade and seemingly set in the early 20th century. There are a few dramatic spikes - a rescue, a marriage, an illness, a birth, a lovely visit from whales - but the book's real meaning is in the careful patterning of Blackall's text and illustrations, which evoke universal themes: steadfastness and change, distance and attachment, nature in all its animate and inanimate tumult. Children will be fascinated by the practical details of lighthouse tending and delighted by Blackall's evident affection for her subject. (In an afterward, she confesses that, "like most sensible people, I have always loved lighthouses.") But what really got me was the tender illustration of the keeper, his wife and their newborn daughter. The infant's round head, a literal circle of life, is the focus not only of the composition but also, in a way, of the entire book. This is a lighthouse that both protects and nurtures. Sky and sea share the spotlight with panache in the unusually liquid paintings, augmented by Photoshop, which Jillian Tamaki has created for THEY SAY BLUE (Abrams, 40 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8). Her pages still look wet! This is a gorgeous, free-associative (or seemingly so) book, moving in ways both elusive and clear. Tamaki has worked primarily as a cartoonist and graphic novelist - she won a 2014 Caldecott Honor for the graphic novel "This One Summer" (written by her cousin Mariko Tamaki), and "They Say Blue" is her first picture book. Her narrator is a girl of grade-school age whom we meet sitting on a dune at the beach. "They say the color of the sky is blue. Which is true today! " she begins. "They say the sea is blue, too. It certainly looks like it from here. But when I hold the water in my hands, it's clear as glass." The book then becomes a kind of meditation on different colors and the moods they evoke, but also the seasons... and the comforts of bedtime ... and the pleasure of being taken care of... and a hint of eventual independence. The book ends with the narrator and her mother watching through a window as a flock of crows takes flight, "tiny ink blots on a sea of sky." If "They Say Blue" is "about" anything, it's a peek into a child's curious, questing, observant mind as she moves beyond received wisdom - what is it "they" say again? - to thinking and feeling and yearning for herself. This may not be to every kid's taste; I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had the patience for "They Say Blue" when I was 4 or 5. But if you care about this art form, I promise you will cherish it. ? BRUCE handy, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author of "Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult."

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* There's something ineffable about Caldecott Honor Book illustrator Tamaki's debut picture book, but that might be precisely the point. In swirly washes of aqueous color, laid down in thick, textural brushstrokes, and evocative figures sketched in fine lines of black ink, a young girl contemplates the world around her, with special attention to color, mood, and mutability. She notices the color of the sky and the ocean, and how they're different from water in her hand. She notes how she knows some colors egg yolks, blood without having to see them. Tamaki sends her young protagonist on a happy flight of fancy while she observes a field of yellow grass, but that imaginative journey is quashed by the gray, rainy sky matching her grumpy mood. There's not a structured narrative or lesson per se, but Tamaki nevertheless latches onto something particularly childlike in her depiction of the constant motion of seasons, feelings, what words mean, and the world at large. The free-associative nature of the child narrator's interaction with her surroundings seems utterly familiar, and approaching it with observational, sensory language lands it firmly in territory children can relate to. This poetic, off-kilter little book has enigmatic power, and observant children will likely be enchanted.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2018 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Readers experience the colors and sensations of the world through the varying moods and observations of one little girl.A golden-skinned child with straight black hair frolics in the water, noticing that the sea looks blue from a distance. "But when I hold the water in my hands, it's as clear as glass." She ponders hidden colors, from the orange of the yolk nestled inside an egg to the red blood that is always pumping through her body, whether she is calm and quiet or running across a playground filled with ethnically diverse children in school uniforms. Her mood soars as she imagines riding a boat over waving yellow grass but comes thudding down to earth as she disembarks from her school bus beside said grassy field, stepping into the cold grayness of a rainy day. The exuberant joys of spring and summer, the return of autumn, and the natural slowing down of winter's return mark the passage of time. The poetic language pairs well with the acrylic-and-Photoshop paintings. Most of the artwork conveys movement and feeling rather than being meticulously literalsuch as when the girl muses about the color of blue whales and impressionistic dabs of darker blue form the flukes of a whale beneath herwith the startling exception of the detailed, highly realistic spread of crows taking flight.Neither exactly a book about colors nor exactly a book about seasons, this is a reminder to slow down, savor the present, notice small details, and relish childlike wonder. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
A 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award Winner!<br> <br> In captivating paintings full of movement and transformation, Tamaki follows a young girl through a year or a day as she examines the colors in the world around her. Egg yolks are sunny orange as expected, yet water cupped in her hands isn't blue like they say. But maybe a blue whale is blue. She doesn't know, she hasn't seen one. Playful and philosophical, They Say Blue is a book about color as well as perspective, about the things we can see and the things we can only wonder at.<br> <br> This first picture book from celebrated illustrator Jillian Tamaki will find equal appreciation among kids and collectors.
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