I’ve always found it difficult to answer the what’s-your-favorite-color question, as the answer depends entirely on my mood. (I like deep blues for more contemplative times, but I need sunny yellow to help wake me in the mornings.)
Perhaps it’s even harder for artists to pick a favorite color. Is it like asking them to pick a favorite child? I don’t know. But the fifteen picture book illustrators in What’s Your Favorite Color?—another “Eric Carle and Friends” book from which all royalties will be donated to the Carle museum in Amherst—have done a fine job of weighing in on the colors they like best.
It’s easy to overlook books like this, and it’s easy to see them as coffee-table books. Instead of being a picture book that provides a running narrative, a book where art and text play off one another to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, it offers up a series of various artists showing off their talents, making a picture book fan and illustration-lover like me an easy target. But sometimes books like these seem slapped together without a great deal of thought. This isn’t one of those. It’s altogether lovely.
Each artist devotes a spread to their favorite hue and a short explanation about why it’s beloved, Eric Carle kicking it all off with yellow. He loves yellow, he writes, because “most children put a yellow sun in their pictures.” (I love this.) He also likes the challenge it poses when mixing paints. (Yellow, he explains, makes other colors look muddy.) His illustration is a big, bold, bright yellow sun.
The other contributors include: Bryan Collier, Mike Curato, William Low, Etienne Delessert, the late Anna Dewdney, Rafael López, Lauren Castillo, Philip C. Stead, Yuyi Morales, Melissa Sweet, Frann Preston-Gannon, Jill McElmurry, Marc Martin, and Uri Shulevitz. Collier (blue) shares a memory from his daughter’s childhood; Low (brown) pays tribute to his old Bronx neighborhood; Delessert (indigo) takes readers to the Sahara Desert; López sings the praises of gray for being unique; Morales mines a childhood memory to tell of her love for Mexican Pink; and more.
Some of these illustrators get mighty creative, even with their colors. Melissa Sweet has a fondness for Maine Morning Gray (she lists many), and Marc Martin chooses not just red, but crimson red, the same color of the crimson rosella parrots he paints in his striking spread.
One of the delightful things about this book is the varying moods it strikes. Curato’s terrifically child-friendly spread, buoyant and sweet (in more ways than one, given that it’s about dessert), is a short statement about his love for mint chocolate chip ice cream, mint being his favorite color. Philip Stead (green) brings readers an inviting free verse poem about the changing nature of color, complete with an elephant painting himself green. (“A green elephant is green / when it wants to be / and that’s why today / my favorite color / is green.”) Castillo’s beautiful, textured spread of a snowy landscape celebrates white with a quiet wonder.
And having Anna Dewdney’s contribution to this book makes for a bittersweet read, given her death from brain cancer last year at the young age of 50. Her devotion to purple stems from her childhood, she wrote, when her favorite outfit was a purple polyester pantsuit, and she wanted some purple peacocks in her front yard. “When I grew up,” she wrote, “I got them.” (Sniff. Where are my tissues?)
Uri Shulevitz wraps up the color celebration with “All Colors,” noting that a single color may feel lonely: “When all the colors get together,” he writes, “oh, what a colorful party they will have!” And, speaking of all colors, this book’s endpapers take the cake. They are hardly showing off, mind you. They showcase simple, carefree paint strokes of several colors in vertical lines. That’s it. But they bring to mind the endpapers from the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which Carle illustrated and Bill Martin Jr. wrote back in 1967. These two sets of endpapers are different in some ways, to be sure, but they do recall each other in essence. Whether or not this is intentional, it’s splendid to see.
Find your favorite child, ask them their favorite color, and then dig in. They’ll enjoy this one, so much gold at the end of a rainbow.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
"Mint" © 2017 by Mike Curato. "Crimson Red" © 2017 by Marc Martin. Used by permission of the publisher of WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE COLOR?, Henry Holt and Company, New York.