I’m not the first person to say this, but it bears repeating: artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger is one of the most talented creators of concept books for young children, as well as an artist who uses die-cuts in some of the most unexpected and refreshing ways. Her best example of both of these things is Green, which won her a 2013 Caldecott Honor. Coming to shelves next month is a companion book, Blue.
Green was a playful exploration of color (green, of course) and language, which took some abstract turns and delivered, to my mind, a subtle environmental message. (Seeger knows better than to preach at child readers.) At the book’s close, we saw a young boy positioning a green plant in the ground and then, on the next page, the boy as an adult next to a blooming, verdant tree: “forever green.” Readers came away from that book with a reminder that it’s up to us to keep our planet green, and Seeger made that point in a gentle, restrained, and hopeful way.
Blue is a book that Seeger could have taken in any number of directions. It differs in that it has a narrative to share, a tender, emotionally compelling story, carried largely by the illustrations of a boy and his dog. But its structure and execution is similar to Green — we as readers take a look at various creative “shades” of blue, ones imbued with emotion and a sense of play, and Seeger’s thoughtfully-placed die cuts reveal surprises at each page turn.
The book starts out with “baby blue,” and we see a toddler with a blue blanket — and a small, furry puppy sleeping next to the boy. As we turn each page, we see the boy grow, and we also see the bond deepen between the boy and the dog. Seeger attaches evocative descriptors to the blues we see — “ocean blue,” as the boy and dog play at the shore; “midnight blue” as they sleep in the dark on the boy’s bed; “quiet blue” as the boy reads to the dog, flashlight in hand, in a tent at night. Each one of these descriptors and shades of blue are connected to this emotional bond between the boy and his dog.
It is within three quickly paced spreads — perhaps Seeger is trying to spare us prolonged heartbreak — that we see the elderly dog start to tire (“old blue”) and pass away. (Wisely, Seeger sets the tone for the loss, preceded as it is by “stormy blue” and “chilly blue.”) It is here, with the grown boy hugging his dog, that Seeger puts “true blue” to use. Do you have your tissues on hand? It is a poignant, deeply felt moment of emotional weight.
Observant readers will follow throughout the book the presence of the boy’s blue blanket from toddlerhood. It becomes a kind of scarf that the dog eventually wears around his neck. When the boy as a young adult meets and falls in love with a woman with her own beloved dog, one that readers sense the grief-stricken man will welcome into his heart, he has this blue cloth tucked in his pocket. In fact, it is this bright shade of blue that is revealed via the die cut on the final page turn. His dog, though gone, will always be with him.
Seeger puts little to no distance between us, as readers, and the action of this book. It’s as if we are right there with the dog and the boy. I love being able to see the canvas itself through her textured acrylic paints. It all adds up to an intimate book, a bittersweet meditation on love and loss that ends with hope and the promise of a healing heart. Don’t miss this one.
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.
BLUE. Copyright © 2018 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press.