Review of Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky

Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky
by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond; illus. by Daniel Minter
Primary    Knopf    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-9848-9436-6    $18.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-9437-3    $21.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-9438-0    $11.99

This wide-ranging nonfiction picture book explores the many facets of a single color, dipping a brush into culture, history, linguistics, art, science, and more. Brew-Hammond begins with a historical look into the different ways people around the world made the title hue and how the difficulty of those methods influenced the color’s early cultural meaning, causing it to be associated with luxury and royalty. After introducing the discovery, in 1905, of a chemical that made blue items (fabrics, etc.) more easily available, Brew-Hammond explores how the history of the color has even influenced language, as when people talk about “the blues” or why first prize is often a blue ribbon. Minter’s illustrations — “layers of acrylic wash on heavy watercolor paper” — use textures such as patterned West African indigo cloth and mottled clouds in the sky, but blue is often not the predominant color on the page. Large expanses of contrasting colors make the blues pop; the illustration accompanying a discussion of the cruelty of the indigo trade, for example, features the hot reds and yellows of the landscape, against which enslaved people and indentured farmers (painted in deep indigo) toil. Blue has, in Brew-Hammond’s words, “a complicated history of pain, wealth, invention, and recovery,” and exploring that history will make readers look at the color in a new way. Back matter includes additional facts and sources. Pair with Tamaki’s They Say Blue (rev. 7/18) and Brown and Dunn’s Perkin’s Perfect Purple (rev. 9/20).

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Laura Koenig

Laura Koenig is the Team Leader for Central Library Children's Services at the Boston Public Library.

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