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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Courage of the Blue Boy
Courage of the Blue Boy
written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Tricycle Press,(July 2006)
There was a blue boy who lived in a blue land. Everything was blue. Polly the calf was blue. "There must be more than blue," He sighed.
"Moo," said Polly.
The blue boy dreamed of all the colors of the world. One day he set off to find them. Polly too.
Blue and Polly rode a yellow bus through a yellow land.
They took a purple taxicab through a purple village.
--Courage of the Blue Boy, Robert Neubecker, p. 1-6.
A blue boy who lives in a land where everything is blue dreams of finding a land with other colors. On his journey, he passes through lands where everything is a single color—yellow, purple, yellow, red—and he keeps searching, hoping there really is something more, until finally he discovers a city where there are multiple, beautiful colors. The boy is happy, until he realizes that there's no blue at all--except him. At first the boy shuts himself away, but then he puts his blueness out into the city, sending out blue ideas, poems, songs, books, and paintings that he shares. He enters the city again, and finds that it's got blue, now, too--and even more incredible, he's got all the other colors inside him, too.
This is a great metaphorical story about having something important to say that seems different from what other people think or believe in, and being brave enough to share it with others. It's about being yourself, following your heart, and accepting differences, even—or especially—in yourself.
Neubecker's simple text reads like a modern fable. Neubecker (Wow! City! ) uses everything being one color as a metaphor for people thinking and acting the same. The metaphors and symbolism remain constant throughout the book, and are nicely interwoven with word choices that depict differences in cultures and thought, such as churches, mosques, and temples. The differently colored newspapers, people, and food, and the various creative possibilities (a museum and opera house) also hint at embracing the richness of different perspectives. That the sounds also have colors is a nice, creative touch.
There are a few telling details that seem like a wrong note in the story, especially in contrast with the great use of metaphor, but overall, the symbolism and story work well. The language of the story almost abruptly changes once the boy realizes that there is no blue in the city, moving from a dense metaphorical focus on color and objects that are almost just description or observation to the boy's inner world, turmoil, and decision making. Greater integration of the different approaches would have worked better for me.
The point where the boy realizes there is no blue is the strongest part of the text for me, involving emotion and metaphor to remind readers that even if they are different or the only one who seems to think a certain way, they can share that difference with others.
Neubecker's india-ink and computer-colored illustrations have a modern feel, and at times seem almost surreal. There are crazy but fun perspectives (roads winding where they couldn't, buildings leaning towards and away from each other, people looking almost flat, while the boy and Polly look almost three dimensional) and a nice use of color and space to make the blue boy stand out. Facial expressions and body language also work to convey the boy's and Polly's emotion.
The illustrations move us from each land where everything is the same color (except the blue boy) and thus everything almost fades into itself, to a bright, almost chaotic city full of color—vibrant, full of energy and life. After seeing so much of one color on each page, this riot of color looks like a celebration of differences (although at times it seems almost chaotic.)
The blue boy always stands out as the focal point, as he is always a starkly different color than the rest of the images on each page, and, in the city, is either drawn much larger, or against a flat color that makes him pop out. This works well as a focus point, but also to show the blue boy (and Polly, his calf) as being different and perhaps alone.
This is an imaginative, positive-feeling story that encourages readers to embrace who they are and be strong enough to share themselves with others. The title is apt; it does take courage to be who you are when how you think or feel seems to be different than most other people. The ending of this book is particularly moving, with the boy knowing that even though he is now full of all the colors of the world, he'll always have his big blue heart. Recommended.
-Added January 2007
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