Reviews of 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Picture Book Winner

They Say Blue
by Jillian Tamaki; illus. by the author
Primary    Abrams    40 pp.
3/18    978-1-4197-2851-8    $17.99

A girl considers the wondrousness of the world around her, prompted by the colors she encounters throughout her day. While at the beach, she gazes across the water (“They say the sea is blue…But when I hold the water in my hands, it’s clear as glass”); crouching under an umbrella, she looks closely at a spring crocus (“Oh! Could purple mean something new?”); her mother braids her hair (“Black is the color of my hair. My mother parts it every morning, like opening a window”). Tamaki (Caldecott Honoree for This One Summer, rev. 7/14) skillfully employs elements of sequence throughout the book, reinforcing themes of progression and growth. The girl is frequently shown multiple times across a particular scene, as if caught in frames by a camera: swimming in the ocean, riding a rowboat across a fantastical sea of golden grass. A few spreads follow the passing seasons, as the girl casts off her cold-weather garb, looking skyward to a warming sun (and the palette changes from cool to warm). With the turn of a page, she stretches to the sky and, step-by-step across the double-page spread, “becomes” a tree. The book follows a sort of sequence of its own, beginning with a bright morning beside a blue ocean and concluding with a radiant orange-red sunset. The text moves effortlessly between prosaic description and poetic contemplation, making of color something both familiar and extraordinary, comforting and inexplicable. Tamaki’s rich acrylic paintings combine scratchy ink linework with watery brushstrokes, establishing a visual tension that echoes this paradoxical sense of things being just at hand yet frequently astonishing. THOM BARTHELMESS

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

A Different Pond
by Bao Phi; illus. by Thi Bui
Primary, Intermediate    Capstone    32 pp.    g
8/17    978-1-62370-803-0    $15.95
e-book ed.  978-1-62370-804-7    $9.95

Hours before sunrise, a father and son go fishing for that night’s meal. So begins this powerfully understated picture book, which shifts the focus of the refugee narrative from the harrowing journey to the reality awaiting the family members once they reach their destination (in this case, the United States). With evocative detail and a keen ear for metaphor (“A kid at my school said my dad’s English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain”; “I feel the bag of minnows move. They swim like silver arrows in my hands”), Phi hints at the family’s joys and struggles. And whether it’s tentative discussion of “the war” and the father’s childhood in Vietnam or a calendar showing the year 1982, the book is filled with cultural specificity. Bui (whose illustrated memoir for adults The Best We Could Do was also published this year) sets the mood with expressive brushwork and colors that alternate between warm oranges and reds in the home and cool blues in the chilly pre-dawn air. By the end, it’s clear that the small struggles that make up everyday life are the very things that bind the family together. The father and son return home that morning with a fish but, more importantly, a fond memory that will help make this new country feel like home. The ponds may be different here, but the water reflects life just the same. MINH LÊ

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


When’s My Birthday?
by Julie Fogliano; illus. by Christian Robinson
Preschool   Porter/Roaring Brook    40 pp.
9/17    978-1-62672-293-4    $17.99

When it comes to young children, there is one day that supersedes all others: the birthday. Fogliano understands the singular focus children have for this day and captures that intensity by repeating the word birthday with a playful obsessiveness: “when’s my birthday? / where’s my birthday? / how many days until / my birthday?” Her rhythmic, stream-of-consciousness text (which displays a Ruth Krauss–like insight into the child psyche) makes this a strong read-aloud that invites the reader to practically sing the words. Robinson mixes his signature cut-paper and paint style with some more photo-collage elements — pictures of actual sandwiches, real string, etc. — giving the illustrations an added layer of texture. In them an eclectic cast of characters, both human and animal, joins in the unbearable anticipation — imagining the presents, the party guests, the food (including the all-important birthday cake) — before arriving at the big day itself: “happy happy! / hee! hee! hee! / time for cakey / wakey wakey / happy happy day to me!” The unique trim size conjures the look of a birthday card: with its tall, thin dimensions, you almost expect a crisp dollar bill to be tucked between the pages. MINH LÊ

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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