2018 READING PICTURES: The Artist’s Voice and Vocabulary in Picture Books
What a unique and utterly fun event! I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces and meet some new friends, too. And of course, what a treat to share the stage with the fabulous Susan Roth and John Parra. Much thanks to Cecilia Yung, Laurent Lynn, and Isabelle Warren Lynch for organizing an amazing event!
(Click here for link to the Society of Illustrators website.)
Below is a description of the event:
Join us for an in-depth exploration of the annual Original Art exhibit, featuring the very best illustration in books for children this year.
Art directors Laurent Linn (Simon & Schuster), Isabelle Warren Lynch (Random House Children’s Books) and Cecilia Yung (Penguin Books for Young Readers) will lead a gallery talk of this spectacular show for an up-close examination of the works on view.
Illustrators Susan Roth, John Parra and Laura Vaccaro Seeger will share their behind-the-scenes decisions and discuss and/or demonstrate their creative processes in the intimate gallery setting of the Society of Illustrators.
The day will conclude with a book signing and an opportunity to chat with your colleagues, the illustrators, and the art directors over a delicious buffet dinner.
(Click here for full article.)
Picks of the Litter: Dog Picture Book for Every Child — and Grown-Up
If the state of the world or anything else is putting you in need of a good cry, I recommend Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s BLUE (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 32 pp., $17.99; ages 3 to 8). It’s another book that uses only two words on each page. This time the phrases all include the word blue — “chilly blue,” “true blue” — the better to show off Seeger’s thick, brushy art and die-cut holes, which are reminiscent of her Caldecott Honor-winning “Green.” Seeger walks you through the life span of a good dog belonging to a little boy who grows to be a man just as the dog passes into the great beyond. (It’s a tip of the hat, perhaps, to the folk song “Old Blue.”) The ending made both me and my husband cry. Our 8-year-old son seemed unmoved, but that may be because his first dog is still young. Still, his reaction tugged at my heart, making me realize that some day, he’ll come back to the book with sadder, wiser eyes. Tempus fugit, but especially, it seems, when you love a dog.
Texture and depth pulled me into Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue, and texture and depth are what carried me through (and then back to the beginning, and then through again). Picking it up for the first time, my immediate instinct was to manipulate the book — to feel its weight, to run my fingers over the jacket — and this impulse was rewarded. The title is raised, providing lovely tactile feedback and inviting readers to consider the many layers and facets of a title that, on the surface, seems straightforward enough. And indeed, Blue is multidimensional. It is the companion book to Green, Seeger’s 2013 book for which she earned a Caldecott Honor, and although the two share many similarities, Green speaks to the natural world; Blue speaks to the heart.
Blue is often a conversation in contrasts, and this is evident as soon as the book is opened to reveal the endpapers and title page. The cover art is dark and dramatic with swirls of cerulean suggesting a dog’s paw print. The title page is an exhale — variations of sky blue textured behind a bold title. It is a place to pause before we keep looking for answers. The two experiences — the cover art and the title page — announce, ostensibly, the same information, but they feel so, so different, and this is the magic of Blue. From the very beginning, we are invited to examine the ways in which color and its varying degrees (and the relationships between those degrees) can serve as evocation. Seeger’s text is spare and simple, but, paired with her redolent acrylic on canvas, it is plenty to make us feel something that’s been stirred up from deep within.
As in Green, Blue ingeniously employs die cuts and allows them to function as a tool to move the visual narrative forward (then backward, then forward again). On the verso, a blue dog bone, after a page-turn, becomes a blueberry; leaves from the blueberry bush serve to illustrate an unfortunate series of paw prints; smeared paint gets lost in the sapphire mosaic of a butterfly’s wing. I found myself flipping back and forth between pages, engaging with Seeger’s impeccable ability to make artistic elements that are integral to one page’s narrative become at once completely lost and completely necessary for the book’s next step. Similarly, die cuts on the recto help readers anticipate what might be coming. A slight hint at a page-turn, a tiny lift of a smooth, thick page, enlivens the die cut and pulls us forward: where is this smear of color, the one lending itself to this ocean-side beach ball, coming from? What will it be? And will it still be the thing before? The magic and drama of the page-turn are not lost here. Not even a little.
Although this is a book about a boy and his dog, each double-page spread is a vignette that, for all intents and purposes, can stand on its own. I found myself lingering on the “stormy blue” spread, full of tones so deep I had to adjust my light. Splatters of paint suggest droplets on a window pane, separating me from the page and defining my role as onlooker, intruder. What was I witnessing? What brought this boy and this dog out into the woods on such a stormy night? Were they lost? Are they reuniting? Where are they going next? There is so much to pull from each of these vignettes. Again, what drew me in is what carried me through. Blue‘s beautiful texture and depth cannot be overstated. Seeger’s deliberate brush strokes, velvety and supple, paired with her use of tonal variation, often implored me to touch the pages, searching for tactile feedback similar to what I received from the book’s jacket, feedback that might match my emotional response.
And all this without any mention of the book’s narrative arc, which, if you’re anything like me, will leave you weeping, despite heavy-handed foreshadowing. The seasons of life — both literal and otherwise — are strong players here, and although the title does deliver (we are certainly taken there, to that blue, blue place), Seeger’s lush artwork and clever use of design elements invite us to explore what this color can mean to all of us at different times and in different stages of our lives.
[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Blue here.]
WASHINGTON POST – Featured Special– October 15, 2018
(Click here for full article.)
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook)
In this not-quite wordless, evocatively illustrated book, Laura Vaccaro Seeger explores the idea of blue as a color and as a feeling, with its themes of loyalty, sadness, calm and hope. A very young boy and a puppy sleep, sharing a comforting piece of baby-blue blanket. A slightly bigger puppy exits the scene of bright yellow paint spilled across a child’s blue painting. Boy and dog play together at the beach as ocean-blue waves roll invitingly toward them. Seeger’s rich, layered acrylic paintings and 16 two-word phrases form a poem about a particularly sweet lifelong friendship. Inserted subtly into each page is a die-cut peek into the next shade of blue, cleverly forming a narrative continuity with the pictures and coaxing the reader to anticipate what comes next. With its gentle portrayal of love and loss and its deep sense of emotion, “Blue”(Roaring Brook, Ages 3 to 6 ) will resonate with readers in a way that is musical, meditative and reassuring.
— Kathie Meizner
WALL STREET JOURNAL – Featured Special- September 20
(Click here for full article.)
Children’s Books: A Hue That’ll Make You Cry
By Meghan Cox Gurdon
Laura Vaccaro Seeger slips a considerable degree more complexity into the outwardly simple pages of “Blue”(Roaring Brook, 38 pages, $17.99), a picture book for children who are a step older, ages 3-7. An exploration of the many shades of a single color, “Blue” is also an emotional tour de force that sneaks up on the reader and, when it’s over, all but demands to be read again straightaway.
There’s a clue to the book’s duality on the front cover: What first appear to be random splotches of thick blue paint represent, in fact, a paw print. The paw belongs to a golden retriever puppy named Blue who belongs to a little boy (see right), and as the pages turn, and we encounter one type of blue after another (“baby blue,” “sky blue,” “midnight blue”), the boy and the dog get older. They frisk with balls and balloons and in the surf; they play tug-of-war and go camping. As in her previous color story, 2012’s “Green,” Ms. Seeger uses cut-outs in the pages to artful effect, giving glimpses of what has passed and what is to come.
For many readers, what is to come will be full-out sobs as eventually “old blue” lies without interest beside a full bowl of food—he’s not eating anymore—and then, on the next page, rests cradled and dying in the arms of the boy. Oh, we are blue! Yet death is not the end, for “new blue” and new love come to leaven the final pages of this tender story.
BLUE has been selected by the Society of Illustrators Original Art show!
Exhibit - November 7, 2018 to January 5, 2019.
Opening Reception - Thursday, November 8, 2018.
From The Society of Illustrators:
THE ORIGINAL ART
The Original Art is an annual exhibit created to showcase illustrations from the year’s best children’s books published in the U.S. For editors and art directors, it’s an inspiration and a treasure trove of talent to draw upon. For art students, it’s a marvelous opportunity to examine—up close—the work of the best in the field. And for the public, it’s a chance to appreciate the enormous range of creativity in children’s books and to see the printed pages alongside the original paintings, drawings, prints, and collages they represent.
Founded by painter, art director, and artists’ representative Dilys Evans, The Original Art was first exhibited in 1980 at the Master Eagle Gallery in New York City. On display was the work of a wide variety of artists, some well-known and well-loved, some newcomers to the field. The show was an instant success, even receiving a proclamation of appreciation from the mayor’s office, and it has been popular ever since.
In 1990, The Original Art found a permanent home at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. It also became a juried event, with a committee of children's book artists, art directors, editors, and publishers selecting the best books from among hundreds of submissions and awarding Gold and Silver medals to the top pieces.
KIRKUS – Featured Special
By Julie Danielson on August 3, 2018
I’m not the first person to say this, but it bears repeating: artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger is one of the most talented creators of concept books for young children, as well as an artist who uses die-cuts in some of the most unexpected and refreshing ways. Her best example of both of these things is Green, which won her a 2013 Caldecott Honor. Coming to shelves next month is a companion book, Blue.
Green was a playful exploration of color (green, of course) and language, which took some abstract turns and delivered, to my mind, a subtle environmental message. (Seeger knows better than to preach at child readers.) At the book’s close, we saw a young boy positioning a green plant in the ground and then, on the next page, the boy as an adult next to a blooming, verdant tree: “forever green.” Readers came away from that book with a reminder that it’s up to us to keep our planet green, and Seeger made that point in a gentle, restrained, and hopeful way.
Blue is a book that Seeger could have taken in any number of directions. It differs in that it has a narrative to share, a tender, emotionally compelling story, carried largely by the illustrations of a boy and his dog. But its structure and execution is similar to Green— we as readers take a look at various creative “shades” of blue, ones imbued with emotion and a sense of play, and Seeger’s thoughtfully-placed die cuts reveal surprises at each page turn.
The book starts out with “baby blue,” and we see a toddler with a blue blanket — and a small, furry puppy sleeping next to the boy. As we turn each page, we see the boy grow, and we also see the bond deepen between the boy and the dog. Seeger attaches evocative descriptors to the blues we see — “ocean blue,” as the boy and dog play at the shore; “midnight blue” as they sleep in the dark on the boy’s bed; “quiet blue” as the boy reads to the dog, flashlight in hand, in a tent at night. Each one of these descriptors and shades of blue are connected to this emotional bond between the boy and his dog.
It is within three quickly paced spreads — perhaps Seeger is trying to spare us prolonged heartbreak — that we see the elderly dog start to tire (“old blue”) and pass away. (Wisely, Seeger sets the tone for the loss, preceded as it is by “stormy blue” and “chilly blue.”) It is here, with the grown boy hugging his dog, that Seeger puts “true blue” to use. Do you have your tissues on hand? It is a poignant, deeply felt moment of emotional weight.
Observant readers will follow throughout the book the presence of the boy’s blue blanket from toddlerhood. It becomes a kind of scarf that the dog eventually wears around his neck. When the boy as a young adult meets and falls in love with a woman with her own beloved dog, one that readers sense the grief-stricken man will welcome into his heart, he has this blue cloth tucked in his pocket. In fact, it is this bright shade of blue that is revealed via the die cut on the final page turn. His dog, though gone, will always be with him.
Seeger puts little to no distance between us, as readers, and the action of this book. It’s as if we are right there with the dog and the boy. I love being able to see the canvas itself through her textured acrylic paints. It all adds up to an intimate book, a bittersweet meditation on love and loss that ends with hope and the promise of a healing heart. Don’t miss this one.
Where this inventive author-illustrator explored both the palette and politics of the color green in Green (rev. 3/12), Blue finds her sneaking up on us with a story about loss, even if at first we think we are simply in for a celebration of all shades blue—“baby blue, “berry blue”—tucked into a portrait of the happy life of a boy and his dog. But as we explore blues both objective (“sky blue,” as the boy releases balloons into the air) and personal (“my blue,” where the boy and dog play tug-of-war with a towel), we slowly understand that the boy is growing, and so is the dog…“old blue.” As in Green, small die-cuts lead from each richly textured double-page spread to the next, always surprising, where the canopy of an umbrella becomes the top of a bird feeder, say, an encapsulation of the larger imaginative leaps being made from spread to spread. When was the last time a concept book made you cry?
- Roger Sutton
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - July 2018 (starred review)
K-Gr 3–In her companion to Green, Seeger follows the lives of a boy and his dog, Blue. Beginning with the sleeping toddler and his puppy accompanied by the words “baby blue,” the pair is shown growing up together and sharing experiences through all seasons and in all weather. Their various activities include blueberry picking, chasing butterflies, taking snowy walks, and frolicking in the ocean. An azure bandana appears on almost every page, sometimes worn by the boy and sometimes by his dog. The pictures and words will appeal to readers’ emotions, including delight, contentment, exasperation, and profound sadness when the youth is pictured holding his elderly dog for the last time. Precisely placed die-cuts lead readers to the next page and the next illustration depicting the pair’s devotion. Short, rhyming couplets consisting of two words each scan well and are skillfully conveyed by the acrylic paintings on canvas: “quiet blue/silly blue/stormy blue/chilly blue.”
VERDICT: Though there is sorrow, it is followed by joy in this touching tribute to a heartwarming relationship that will engage readers of all ages.
- Maryann H. Owen, Oak Creek Public Library WI
KIRKUS - July 15, 2018 (starred review)
This companion to Seeger's Caldecott Honor book Green (2012) explores a fresh color's visual and metaphorical permutations. Seeger unfolds the entwined lives of a white boy and a golden Lab, from baby- and puppy-hood through a series of poignant transitions. Cleverly placed die cuts and rhymed, two-word phrases (set in ever crisp Helvetica Neue bold) anchor each double-page spread. To her many-hued blues, some thick with impasto, Seeger adds yellow, sienna, crimson, and green in scenes that transit fluidly among interiors and natural tableaux exploring the sea, a stormy night, a sun-dappled park, and more. At "baby blue," puppy and toddler sleep among blue toys, sharing a small square of blue cloth—a future neckerchief they'll trade throughout. For "berry blue," boy pulls dog and a berry basket in a red wagon. The phrase "maybe blue" perches on a blob of yellow in the child's vivid self-portrait with pet. (The dog traverses the picture, tracking yellow paint across the deep-blue ground, its die-cut paw prints mixing to make green.) At "very blue" the pair cavorts among blue butterflies, which fill the foreground in huge, delightful proximity. Later scenes depict the Lab's inevitable aging, with the boy sitting ("so blue") on a dock at sunset, his body bent in grief. Last, another transition: meeting a brown-skinned girl and her young sheepdog, the blue scrap now tucked in the teen's back pocket. Sumptuous, stunning, and heart-stirring. (Picture book. 3-7)
BOOKLIST - July 1, 2018 (starred review)
In this companion to her Caldecott Honor Book Green (2012), Seeger reflects on the many shades and emotions suggested by this pigment. “Baby blue” depicts a sleeping toddler and puppy sharing a blue blanket. A page turn reveals a slightly older preschooler and his dog collecting “berry blue” fruit. A child’s painting of a boy and dog, marred by paw prints, is captioned “maybe blue.” In later spreads, both youngster and pooch mature, sparking adventures that involve running into the waves (“ocean blue”), camping out (“quiet blue”), and a snowy walk (“chilly blue”). Eventually, of course, “old blue / true blue” passes away, leaving the teen “so blue,” until he meets a girl with her own pup, “new blue.” While story takes a prominent role in this concept book, Seeger has not neglected the artistic details that distinguished her work. The acrylic-on-canvas paintings exhibit a range of styles: from playful (“silly blue”) to contemplative (“midnight blue”) to gently combative (“my blue,” in which boy and mutt each tug at the baby blanket). As in Green, strategically placed die-cuts help to connect the spreads, previewing important features of the next illustration. A story full of heart, this works on many levels, assuring satisfying discoveries with repeated viewings.
— Kay Weisman
It was so much fun to debut BLUE at ALA in New Orleans. Here are some photos from the weekend...