Starred review for BLUE - Judy Freeman's “What’s New in Children’s Literature and Strategies for Using It in Your Program"

Review of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue
from Judy Freeman’s handbook for her seminar for teachers and librarians: “What’s New in Children’s Literature
and Strategies for Using It in Your Program (Grades K-6)”

✪ Blue. Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook, 2018. {ISBN-13: 978-1-62672-066-4; 36p.}

Wow. That’s what you’ll say when you finish reading and taking in the sweeping full-bleed acrylic paintings in Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s dazzling companion book to her Caldecott Honor-winner, Green. Just, wow! And then you’ll go back and dive in again. Then you’ll look for someone you can share it with. (I made my husband read it aloud to me and show me all the pictures from several yards away, the way children at the back of a class will see it during story hour, and it was magnificent to behold.)

On the first double-page spread are a yellow puppy and a baby, both asleep on a light blue blanket, the dog’s blue bone-shaped chew toy by his paw, and the baby’s rattle and stuffed light blue bear by his arm. There are only two words on the page: “baby blue,” in lowercase letters. Children will want to pat the dog’s soft-looking fur. As you turn the first sturdy, heavy stock page, you’ll see there are two die-cut circles on either end of the light blue rattle that become the wheels of the red wagon the boy, now a toddler, is pulling on the next right-hand page, and the blueberries growing on the left. It’s so effortless and organic, you’ll want to turn the page back and forth several times to marvel at the transformation.

From “berry blue,” turn to “maybe blue,” a painting the boy has done of his dog and himself. The dog has walked across the wet painting, leaving yellow pawprints behind. Then there’s “very blue,” with butterflies filling the page. Wait—let’s look at that again: “baby blue / berry blue / maybe blue / very blue.” Is this text, all thirty-two words of it (with sixteen of those words being “blue”), a rhyming poem? Why, yes. With each page turn, the boy and the dog are growing up together.

Remember that light blue blanket on the first page? The boy wears it as a bandana around his neck in subsequent pages of “ocean blue,” “sky blue,” and “midnight blue.” He and the dog wrestle for it in “my blue,” after which the dog wears it, tied around his neck in “silly blue” where the boy is giving the dog a bath in a metal tub outside, the garden hose in his hand erupting with a spray of water.

Then there’s “chilly blue,” where they walk through the woods together in the snow, the boy pulling his sled on a rope in one hand and holding the dog’s leash in the other. And now the sorrow creeps in with “old blue,” the dog lying on his blanket on the porch, his food bowl untouched, his eyes looking worried and tired. “True blue” shows the boy, now a young man, holding his beloved dog on his lap, and then “so blue,” as he sits, alone and grieving by the ocean in the indigo evening as the sun goes down.

Our pets are only on loan, as children find out the hard and heartbreaking way at some point in their young lives. The final two pages are upbeat, with a new dog (and a girlfriend) bringing joy and love into his life. Notice the blue bandana now in the young man’s back pocket, a tribute to his dear companion.

Wow. Just wow all over again, the second time you read it, and even the twentieth. Will it win Laura Vaccaro Seeger another Caldecott? I sure hope so.

GERM: There’s an effective and affective video of the book, set to music, on YouTube.com here. The pages turn mechanically somehow so you can see each die-cut as the book progresses, and the whole thing is scored with a beautiful instrumental music piece composed by Laura’s son, Dylan Seeger that put me in mind of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Nothing, however, beats having that big, sturdy book on your lap and turning the pages yourself, back and forth, to exclaim over the sheer brilliance of those die cuts, to marvel at the many shades and situations of blue, and to sniffle into a Kleenex when you get to the end.

See how Laura thought through the book in this revealing and remarkable interview with Julie Daniels on her blog, “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” here. She discusses Blue’s backstory and includes sketches, finished art, and even a reproduction of the first draft of the original poem she wrote as the book’s text. She reveals this poignant detail: “Little did I know that, by the time I began painting the ‘true blue’ spread where the teenage boy is holding his dog in his arms for the last time, my dog Copper (the star of the Dog and Bear series), would become unexpectedly ill and pass away. The timing was remarkable, and the last few spreads were painted while my own tears dripped upon the canvas. Writing Blue, as it turns out, explored my own loyalty and sadness — in real time.” We’re crying, too, Laura, for all the pets we’ve loved and lost. This year’s The Rough Patch by Brian Lies explores some of the same themes; it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two books, if your heart can take it.

RELATED TITLES: Carle, Eric. Hello, Red Fox. Simon & Schuster, 1998. / Carle, Eric, and Friends. What’s Your Favorite Color? Henry Holt/Godwin Books, 2017. / Cohen, Miriam. Jim’s Dog Muffins. Greenwillow, 1984. / Cooper, Elisha. Big Cat, Little Cat. Roaring Brook, 2017. / Cottin, Menena. The Black Book of Colors. Groundwood, 2008. / Demas, Corinne. Saying Goodbye to Lulu. Little, Brown, 2004. / Frame, Jeron Ashford. Yesterday I Had the Blues.Tricycle, 2003. / Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo. Children’s Book Press, 2007. / Howard, Ellen. Murphy and Kate. Simon & Schuster, 1995. / Klise, Kate. Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List.Feiwel and Friends, 2017. / Lies, Brian. The Rough Patch. Greenwillow, 2018. / O’Neill, Mary. Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color. Doubleday, 1989, c1961. / Paschkis, Julie. Vivid: Poems & Notes About Color.Henry Holt, 2018. / Rohmann, Eric. Bone Dog. Roaring Brook, 2011. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. First the Egg. Roaring Brook, 2007. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Green. Roaring Brook, 2012. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. The Hidden Alphabet.Roaring Brook, 2003. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Lemons Are Not Red. Roaring Brook, 2004. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro.One Boy. Roaring Brook, 2008. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Walter Was Worried. Roaring Brook, 2005. / Shannon, George. White Is for Blueberry. Greenwillow, 2005. / Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.Houghton Mifflin, 2009. / Viorst, Judith. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. Atheneum, 1971. / Wolff, Ashley.Baby Bear Sees Blue. Beach Lane, 2012.

SUBJECTS: COLORS. DEATH. DOGS. LOSS. LOVE. PICTURE BOOKS FOR ALL AGES. STORIES IN RHYME.