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Posts tagged ‘art criticism’

Review: They Say Blue

They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki’s debut picture book, and I for one welcome her with open arms into the They Say Blue book coverworld she has joined. It will be released March 13, so place holds or get one ordered now.  I was lucky enough to get a preview copy from Jenny at Abrams (thanks Jenny!)

Let’s start with the case cover. Under the dust jacket that introduces us to the main character, there’s movement and birds. Black birds and white birds that nearly make a yin-yang of flight in the sky. Peek under there to see. On to the end case cover showing birdspages, which begin with a wash of yellows and close with night-time blues. I think these end-pages give us a hint of the passage of time in the book, which could be a day or a year.

We know Tamaki is a capable artist, as her Caldecott honor This One Summer proves. This book is, at first look, so completely different from that graphic novel for older readers. But is it? In They Say Blue,  Tamaki presents a child-view, wondering about the world. So does This One Summer, written by her cousin Mariko Tamaki. The poetic language of this picture book sings and dances along with the art.  As the little girl wonders about whales and crows and growing trees, the art burrows into our hearts and sticks there.

One spread really reminds me of my favourite spreads in This One Summer, where Windy is dancing around the kitchen table. The weather has finally warmed, and the girl is shedding her winter layers, running off to play in the sunshine. It demonstrates Tamaki’s fine handle on depicting movement. There’s more white space here, allowing the words to frame the movement, to give us time to think of what sunny warmth means after winter. She also uses colour to reveal warmth. Her use of line and colour in this picture book are swoon-worthy.

open book, girl is taking her coat off

from “They Say Blue”

open book, girl is dancing around

from “This One Summer”

 

There are so many spreads in this book that I love. There’s one showing the girl sitting “pretzel style” — the verso side is orange and the recto is red: the backgrounds swirl around, matching the text which talks of stillness and movement. Another shows the girl turning into a tree. There’s a spread where a blue whale can be seen under the speckles of paint that are water. I can’t decide which one I love the most. I may love them all the most.

One thing that always makes me realize that I am reading an excellent picture book is the pacing. The text here is sheer poetry, meant to be read aloud, rolled around in the mind. The text is surrounded by art that gives it a place to rest. But it also jumps around, like a child’s mind, then comes back to settle and quiet. Each page turn takes us further in and then brings us back. It truly is a work of art, this marriage of text and illustration. Jillian Tamaki has some secret alchemy going on here, and we get to experience it in this book. I can’t wait for the world to see this one.

Want more books? Follow me on Twitter @annavalley for my #picturebookpile posts!

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Picture This

book cover for "Picture This"Generally, I share a big pile of picture books, and that will be coming soon, I promise. But I want to talk about one of the best books ever written for people who love picture books. It is Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang.

In the book, Molly Bang explains how artists create tension and emotion in visual images. Not only does she explain it, she SHOWS it by using simple construction paper shapes. For instance, a little red triangle represents Little Red Riding Hood. Thin black rectangles represent the trees. A big black triangle is the wolf. I was lucky enough to take a workshop from Molly Bang based on this book. It is just brilliant.

What I love about this book is that it works on so many levels. Teachers could use this book for art classes, and someone who is working on making a picture book could use it to get a better understanding of their images. Bang takes us step-by-step through images and demonstrates how a picture works. When I was on the Caldecott Committee, I looked at this book over and over. I kept a copy on my desk, to refer to. I looked at picture books with a deeper understanding because of this book.

One reason I am bringing this book to your attention is that there’s a revised and expanded 25th anniversary edition, which is great because the original edition was smaller and had been lost in the shuffle of older books on the shelf. This new edition contains the added bonus of Molly Bang using these principles of how pictures work by showing us some images from her book, When Sophie Gets Angry- Very, very angry.

So: teachers, grab this book for your next art class, because there are even some exercises at the end to lead you through the concepts of using construction paper to show feelings in pictures. Artists and art critics, grab this book and refresh your ideas on how pictures work. It is, as Brian Selznick says on the cover of the book, “The Strunk and White of visual literacy.”