Review of They Say Blue

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.

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess is Youth Services Manager for the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington State.

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