Review: The Black Book of Colours

blackbookofcolours EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faría
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press (published June 2008)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0888998732
ISBN-13: 978-0888998736

If we could all understand each other just a little better, see the world from other people’s perspectives, we could change the world.

So why don’t we teach our children about other people’s points of view?

This ingenious, innovative book brings to life the world of a blind child named Thomas through his descriptions of colour to his sighted friend, the book’s narrator. Braille letters accompany the text so that the book can be read in two different ways. Each page is black, and the pictures, also in black, are embossed to give the reader the opportunity to experience “feeling” images and to perceive the world through a sense other than sight. The writing is vivid, opening a window into a world where “yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers” and “red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon.”

Can you feel the difference between a brown fall leaf and fresh-cut green grass? Could you tell them apart if you couldn’t see them?

Having recently listened to a fascinating podcast about how some blind people can learn to “see” (really see, not just locate things) through echolocation, I’ve had blindness and perception on the mind lately. In The Black Book of Colors, Venezuelan author/illustrator team Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría bring to life a world most people avoid thinking about — a world without sight — and invite readers to think about perception differently.

I want my kids to grow up able to imagine and think about the world from other people’s perspectives and not to think of people as being less worthy because they lack a sense like sight or hearing, or the capacity to walk, or some other thing that marks them out as being “different.” Everyone is “different,” and books like this help plant the seeds of understanding that we so badly need in the world right now.

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Review: Courage of the Blue Boy

courage

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author and illustrator: Robert Neubecker
Publisher: Tricycle Press (published October 2006)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1582461821
ISBN-13: 978-1582461823

There’s a lot of talk among parents and parenting “experts”* about the idea of grit. Grit is that elusive combination of resiliency and stick-to-it-iveness that is currently being regarded as being more important to achieving success in life than even your choice of preschool or your child’s consumption of kale. Some people say grit can be taught; some people think it’s a product of a child’s experience with adversity; and some people think it’s just a kind of lottery, like which kid will sleep through the night at six months or which kid will have a weird fear of butterflies.

I don’t know how to teach my daughters to have grit (to be gritty?). I don’t know how to give them the courage to keep trying when things get hard, or to believe in their own voice when others don’t agree, or to bounce back when the world is scary.

I only know that books are great teachers, so they’re a good place to start.

Courage of the Blue Boy is about a (blue) boy named Blue and his (blue) calf Polly, who leave their blue world behind in search of a more colourful experience. They explore all kinds of new places — red worlds, green worlds, orange worlds — and then at last they discover a beautiful city rich in the whole spectrum of colour…

…except for blue.

Blue is afraid. In the big city he can find nothing and no one that is blue like him.

So he has to summon the courage to put forth his blue ideas and his blue talents in the big colourful city, bit by bit, until at last the city feels his influence and bits of blue are everywhere among the other colours. “Blue began to breathe in all of the colors of the city, one by one. / They grew inside of him, pink and red and violet, green and purple and orange, white and black and yellow. / He wasn’t just blue anymore. / He was every color of the world.”

I’m not much for picture books whose sole vehicle is a moral message, but author/illustrator Robert Neubecker uses his bold drawings to move the story along smoothly, and the blend of simple story, rich illustration (I love how he brought the colourful city on the green ocean to life), and profound message means that the book can be enjoyed by a broad age range and be a jumping-off point for discussions about diversity and tolerance, courage, and, yes, grit. It certainly isn’t subtle, but if it’s hitting you on the head with a message hammer, the hammer is at least pleasant and brightly coloured.**

Will this book make your children more accepting of diversity or, er, grittier? I can’t tell you that, any more than I can tell you that if they eat kale they’ll live to be four hundred. But you’ve got to begin the conversation somewhere. And sitting down with a big colourful picture book featuring a boy and his calf, and talking with your kids about the beauty of different ideas and the importance of determination, sounds like a pretty good place to start.

Public service announcement: if you were born in the right era, you might just find that reading this book will firmly lodge the song “Blue” by Eiffel 65 into your head, possibly forever. Consider yourselves warned.

*I use quotes because I just don’t think that anyone can be an expert at parenting — that would be like being an expert at living, or an expert on the universe, or an expert on circumstances.

** Courage of the Blue Boy is certainly a far cry from the moral instruction in early children’s books, one of my favourites of which is the exceptionally macabre tale of moral purity A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children, in which spiritually strong but physically weak children meet their demises in a variety of ways.

 

Review: Are You Eating Something Red?

red EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book
Age: 1-4 years
Author and illustrator: Ryan Sias
Publisher: Blue Apple Books (April 1, 2010)
Pages: 12
ISBN-10: 1609050185
ISBN-13: 978-1609050184

A great introduction to healthy eating, Go Greenie! Are You Eating Something Red? features the appealing Greenie, who is some kind of green apple creature, choosing from a wide range of fruits and vegetables in each colour. The text is very simple — “Look at all the [red/green/orange/etc.] foods. / All are good to eat. / What [red/green/orange/etc.] food would you choose for a tasty treat?” — so as to avoid getting in the way of the main goal of the book: to show off lots of different fruits and vegetables in all their colourful goodness. Toddlers and preschoolers will love pointing out all the foods they can name, and might even pick up a few new ones (yellow summer squash? purple eggplant? green kiwi?”), and parents will love reading about the importance of eating a wide range of produce in a variety of colours…without having to watch their kids’ eyes glaze over as they discuss dietary fibre. We used this book to get our toddler involved in meal planning (well, as involved as a two-year-old can get) by asking her to point out fruits and vegetables she’d like to eat, and encouraging her to try new ones she didn’t know. Short and sweet, this book takes a straightforward goal that can be surprisingly hard to achieve — encouraging healthy eating through reading — and, in a word (okay, two), nails it.