singing the picture book blues

“To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold —  brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ~ Archibald MacLeish

Art ©2018 Ashley Crowley (The Boy and the Blue Moon)


I’m diving and flying into the deep blue today with a trio of recently published picture books. I love immersing myself in the beauty, wonder, and heart of these cleverly conceived and beautifully executed stories. Oh, for the ultimate blueness of water and sky!

Whether considering the unique “adventures” of a beloved object, pondering the many colors of the world, or taking a magical journey to the moon, these three blue ribbon titles will touch, delight, and inspire, and are already well on their way to becoming perennial favorites.


Little Blue Chair by Cary Fagan and Madeline Kloepper (Tundra Books, 2017).  In this enchanting, heartwarming story, we follow the journey of a little blue wooden chair as it travels “from place to place and bottom to bottom.” It starts out as young Boo’s favorite chair; he sits in it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, reads on it outdoors and makes a tent around it. When he outgrows it, his mother leaves it by the mailbox, where a man with a truck picks it up.

He sells the blue chair to a junk shop, where it eventually goes home with a lady who uses it as a plant stand. Each time the chair is no longer needed, it is passed on to someone else who deems it perfect for his/her needs. The chair sails the high seas, is propped atop an elephant for rides, and is enjoyed as a birdseed platform and ferris wheel seat, before it’s won by another little boy, who uses it on his go-kart and as a king’s throne.

Held aloft by three balloons, the blue chair then floats back over the ocean and wondrously lands in the front garden of a grown-up Boo, who repaints it and passes it on to his daughter.

This story has a reassuring feeling of continuity to it, as the blue chair circles back to its original owner. Though the ending is a bit predictable, the narrative itself is not, as each time the chair changes hands the circumstances are novel and interesting. Kloepper’s charming ink and pencil illustrations make good use of white space, allowing the blue chair to take center stage in each scene. A whimsical, satisfying story about the rewards of repurposing, reminding us that the inherent value of any object is only limited by our imagination.


They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki (Abrams BYR, 2018). Caldecott Honoree Tamaki’s debut picture book features a young girl’s playful and expansive meditation on the colors and things of this world. In free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness fashion, she questions what is held to be true vs. what she sees or cannot see with her own eyes. “They say blue is the color of the sky,” she begins, “Which is true today! They say the sea is blue, too. It certainly looks like it from here.” But when she holds the water in her hands, it’s “clear as glass.”

She follows with other ponderances. Is a blue whale blue? She’s not sure, since she’s never seen one. Holding up an egg, she knows it contains an orange yolk, even if it’s not visible inside its shell. After envisioning a field of grass as a golden ocean which she could sail upon if she built a boat light enough, she muses about the four seasons. On a cold rainy day, she’s baffled about the coming of Spring. Seeing a purple crocus as a sign of “something new,” she sheds her winter clothes, transitioning from lavender hues to the orange/yellow/green/browns of new growth — now she’s sprouted into a tree!

From the warm green days of summer to the rusts of autumn to winter’s blues and whites, her tree self eventually becomes a little girl again, snug in her bed, soon to be awakened by her mother parting her black hair, “like opening a window.” While her mother braids her hair, the two of them gaze at black crows in the field, wondering what they see, what they are thinking.

Tamaki’s fluid acrylics swirl through the pages in broad strokes, underscoring the energy and movement of the girl’s thought process. Though there’s no conventional story arc, the girl’s improvisational wanderings are rooted in the safe place of what is real and familiar — a favorite beach at the beginning, her own bed at home at the end. Spare, poetic text and innovative art reflect childlike wonder, curiosity, associative and intuitive thinking: out of the blue, dive into magic.


The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary and Ashley Crowley (Godwin Books/Henry Holt, 2018). On the night of a blue moon, a boy and his cat take a walk right into a magical adventure. The boy acknowledges that “anything can happen,” as his cat gradually turns blue.

On their way to the forest, they pass through a field of bluebells, where they hear “a hundred thousand tiny bells “ringing out a song no one had ever heard before.” Up the familiar path lined with blue trees, a blue lake appears, one they’d never seen before. There’s a boat at the edge of the lake, so they eagerly jump right in.

In the middle of the lake a second moon appears, so the boy rows toward it. The moon’s so close, the boy wishes and wishes he could go there. This is something he’d wished many times before while reading books about the moon.

Suddenly a beam of light swirls them round and round. They travel up and down at the same time until they finally land on the moon. It is perfect! The boy and his cat are ecstatic — they run and jump and play and toss moon rocks, thinking they could stay there forever. But soon the darkness and chill make the boy feel lonely and he misses home. So he picks up his cat and dives down into the darkness until they can see the Earth, the beautiful blue planet! The next moment they’re back home, safe and sound. Was it all real or just a dream?

This enchanting adventure has a mystical quality about it that speaks to the longing and wish fulfillment in all of us. The lyrical text and gorgeous, evocative illustrations transport the reader to the realm of fantasy and imagination. Ashley Crowley used blue inks, gouache, graphite sticks, pastels, colored pencils and photoshop to create his stunning pictures in various shades of blue. Readers will be entranced from page one — words and pictures blend seamlessly, as moonlight and shadows lure us into the blue moon’s bewitching spell. Rare and simply wonderful, once on a blue moon something amazing does indeed happen.




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Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “singing the picture book blues

    1. Yes — they are beautiful and dreamy . . . :). It’s my first exposure to this particular illustrator too. Wow!


  1. I haven’t read The Blue Chair, but my library has it, and I have a little “red” chair, from a long-ago classroom, and now a plant sits on it! I’ve read the other two, can’t miss those moon books, and I loved They Say Blue. Your own “blues” are wonderful, Jama!

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    1. Love that you have a little red chair, Linda, and are also using it for a plant. 🙂 Glad your library has the book — you will enjoy it!


  2. Trying to think blue. I enjoyed the Tamaki & O’Leary books–will look for the Fagan one. Thanks for the recs, Jama :).

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