Happy Spring, ShelfTalker readers! As the East Coast digs out from yet another snowstorm, the calendar reminds us that it’s officially the first week of Spring. Although I’m flying to snowy New York City tomorrow for publisher meetings, here in Austin the bluebonnets have started to bob their heads on the sides of the roads. And while the days start chilly, they consistently end in the 70s and 80s. We’ll be in sweltering 105 degree weather soon enough, but for a small moment, we’re enjoying a temperate transition that I want to slow down and savor.
In the midst of our turn toward spring, I’m very much enjoying two new picture books that arrived just in time to send kids into the balmy outdoors armed for exploration and observation. Each book embraces the visceral immediacy of the natural world and centers around tactile, sensory perception, but they do it in completely different ways. They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki dives into the world headfirst, exploring all its colors both seen and unseen, pausing to contemplate each new wonder before leaping to the next. Bear and Wolf by Daniel Salmieri, on the other hand, has a slower pulse and a more deliberate pace, following two wild friends through the rhythms of a quiet woodland year, together and alone.
They Say Blue stars a young explorer whose fingers and toes and eyes and ears and imagination are all in a state of constant, inquisitive motion as she investigates her way through the seasons, flinging clear water drops from her fingers and running until her red blood races through her veins. Reaching as high as she can to sprout like a tree and feel the sun, this girl has no interest in taking anyone’s word for what the world is, because she knows the world is what you can see with your own eyes, feel with your own fingers, smell with your own nose. If you can’t see something yourself, how do you know it’s there? You can feel the red blood pumping through your body and picture an egg’s inner orange yolk because you’ve seen those things emerge from hiding before. But until you see a blue whale, how do you know it’s blue? After all, people say the sky and sea are blue, which isn’t always true, and captures nothing of their untamed, mercurial natures.
What I particularly love about this investigative journey through the world is that it always feels grounded and personal and childlike in scope. Even when our explorer breaks into a moment of fantasy, sailing a boat over a field of rolling golden grass in her mind’s eye, she brings herself back down to the earth she knows, reminded that not even the lightest boat could ride those waving strands. When brought to life in Tamaki’s illustrations, it’s something more than just fun fantasy. It’s the opening of possibility and the acceptance of reality. We can see the sheer unbridled joy unleashed by her imagined adventure on the grassy waves, and the resignation in her posture as she gives up the dream and walks away in the rain.
In the middle of all this tactile enthusiasm, some my favorite moments of the book are the quiet ones: the esoteric contemplation of the colors contained within an unbroken egg or a careful crouch to examine a new spring flower. I especially love when the book brings our young wanderer home to her family, finding the safe calm of her own bed (where the curves of her blankets echo the rolling hills covered with snow outside) and waking to her mother’s gentle touch on her thick black hair. Tamaki captures something ineffable and tender about the colors of a shared life in these pages. Mother and daughter feel so connected here in this small moment from their daily life that it feels almost like we’re spying. The final spreads show the glow of a sunrise on their faces as they watch crows flying into an orange-pink “sea of sky” that’s anything but blue. As dawn breaks on a new day, we know that more adventures will call our girl outdoors, but we also get a glimpse of the world always waiting to welcome her back home and share in her discoveries.
Stay tuned for a deeper dive into Daniel Salmieri’s exquisite Bear and Wolf next week in Part 2.