They Say Blue

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
They Say Blue Book Poster Image
Dreamy, visually stunning meditation on colors and seasons.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Colors. Seasons. Weather. Aspects of the natural world.

Positive Messages

It’s good to be mindful of the world around you, to truly observe it. The world is full of colors and wonders.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The young girl is thoughtful and observant and in awe of the world around her. She lets herself feel her different emotions, not only the joyous ones. She and her mother have a close and loving relationship. In the playground scene, kids of many races play together harmoniously.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki is a visually gorgeous book by a well-known illustrator and graphic novelist. Tamaki won both a Caldecott Honor and Printz Honor (for teens) for the graphic novel This One Summer. Using color as a jumping-off point, a little girl observes the world around her in fresh and thoughtful ways. "They say the sea is blue, too. It certainly looks it from here. But when I hold the water in my hands, it’s as clear as glass." Her observations can inspire readers to be attentive and voice their own questions.

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What's the story?

In THEY SAY BLUE, a girl sits on a beach, musing about the color of the sky and the sea, and then thinks, "What about a blue whale? Is a blue whale blue?" She knows that an egg yolk is orange, and that the blood pulsing through her is red. A spring day that's gray and rainy seems more hopeful when she comes upon a purple flower. She sheds her winter wear and reaches her arms up to become a tree that moves through the seasons. When she awakens from a deep sleep, she and her mother look out at the black crows that "bob and chatter in the field outside ... Tiny inkblots on a sea of sky."

Is it any good?

This moving meditation on color, seasons, and more of life's wonders opens with seagulls and closes with crows, and the art itself soars. They Say Blue is constructed of childlike questions and sensory observations that ring true to age and encourage kids to be mindful and open their eyes to the world around them. It takes a fantastical turn when the girl raises her arms like branches, and becomes a tree that passes through spring, summer, fall, and winter.

The text and art work together beautifully to evoke mood, as at the end when the girl's mother parts her hair "every morning, like opening a window," and sunshine yellow streams in past the midnight blues. Most pages feature the girl, but one vibrant spread shows school kids of many races playing together on a playground, and includes one girl who uses metal forearm crutches. The front end papers are sunny yellow, and the back ones are moody blue, and Tamaki's expressive splashes of color convey real emotion throughout.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the colors in They Say Blue. What colors do you notice in the world? Where do you see them? Which are your favorite?

  • Is the sea always blue? What about the sky? Can you think of other things that people say is a specific color but is sometimes another one?

  • How does the girl feel on different pages? How can you tell? Do the colors around her help show her mood?

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