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Blue Sky White Stars

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Blue Sky White Stars Book Poster Image
Stirring, poetic take on America and flag has majestic art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The name "Old Glory." Colors of American flag. Wordplay with homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). Pictures of iconic American events and symbols: American flag, Statue of Liberty, covered wagons, the Grand Canyon, Betsy Ross sewing flag, Lincoln, civil rights marches, baseball stadium, Civil War Union soldiers, eagle, astronauts planting flag on moon, Fourth of July fireworks.

Positive Messages

We can be proud of and celebrate our flag and our nation. America has citizens and families of all races and creeds and includes immigrants from many backgrounds. American history includes people marching peacefully together to demand civil rights. We're stronger together.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Powerful images include: civil rights marchers, both African-American and white; Abraham Lincoln; Union soldiers of various races including African-American, Native American, and white; an African-American grandfather wearing a World War II veteran's cap listening to a baseball game with his grandson on a porch flying the flag; Betsy Ross sewing flag; American citizens of many races, including immigrants of many nationalities; an African-American college graduate standing at podium; astronauts.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blue Sky White Stars, about the United States and the American flag, has evocative but minimal text by Indian-American writer Sarvinder Naberhaus, and lush, gorgeous illustrations by award-winning African-American artist Kadir Nelson (I Have a Dream). Together they've created a book that's a moving meditation on our traditional patriotic symbols as well as our rich, multicultural history. Nelson's paintings are stirring and powerful, making this a great book not only to commemorate the Fourth of July but also to thoughtfully ponder our nation's history. The message is clearly that we are one nation, proud and strong together.

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What's the story?

BLUE SKY WHITE STARS repeats short lines of text about our flag and nation, illustrating them in different ways. It starts with text describing the flag itself -- "Blue sky/White stars," "Red rows," "White rows," "Red, white, and blue," and "Old Glory" -- and shows images of the flag juxtaposed with majestic landscapes. It moves on to include people -- for instance, Lincoln's lined face to illustrate "Well worn" and civil rights marchers holding hands for "Woven together." "Stand proud" shows Civil War soldiers and a young woman of color in graduation robes. The message throughout is that we're all one nation, epitomized in the multihued mix of faces illustrating "So together one nation."

Is it any good?

Poetic text and stunning art make this a flag-waving book with a difference, inviting readers to celebrate America's patriotic symbols and think about its rich, multicultural history. The text in Blue Sky White Stars is more expressive than informational, with author Sarvinder Naberhaus repeating short phrases such as "Blue sky white stars," "Old Glory," and "Woven together." She also includes phrases that sound alike but have different meanings -- for instance, "Sew together/Won nation" (Betsy Ross sewing flag) and "So together/One nation" (faces of various races). The spare text makes the book perfect for young kids, but older kids will enjoy thinking about the plays on words.

There could be no better illustrator for this project than Kadir Nelson, who pictures an inclusive, multiracial America and whose paintings of American faces, symbols, and landscapes are breathtaking and arresting. His choice of subject is always thought-provoking. In one spread, "All American," he presents an image of a brightly lit baseball stadium next to an image of an older African-American man listening to the game on the radio with his grandson. Though Nelson's art captures the majesty of our multihued nation and the varied faces of its people, the omission of direct reference to Native Americans is glaring.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the images in Blue Sky White Stars. Why do you think the author and illustrator decided to use two contrasting pictures to illustrate one line of text?

  • Can you find times the author used wordplay with words that sound the same but have different meanings? Why do you think she used those?

  • Which images in the book do you find the most moving? What other images can you think of that represent America to you?

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