They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki’s debut picture book, and I for one welcome her with open arms into the world 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 pages, 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.
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.
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