Monday, 16 June 2014

review: Emily's Blue Period

by Cathleen Daly; illustrated by Lisa Brown
Roaring Brook Press, June 17 2014
contemporary picture book
galley received via publisher (thank you!)

Summary (via Goodreads because it's too good not to use):
Emily likes painting and loves the way artists like Pablo Picasso mixed things up. Emily's life is a little mixed up right now. Her dad doesn't live at home anymore, and it feels like everything around her is changing.
“When Picasso was sad for a while,” says Emily, “he only painted in blue. And now I am in my blue period.”
It might last quite some time.
The cover:

It's a common affliction for picture book covers to have a complete lack of background, but here it works semi-well as a sort of blank canvas, referencing the theme of art. The hand-lettered title is also lovely and simple, a good contrast to the scattered assortment of art supplies framing the bottom of the design.

The book:

The structure of Emily's Blue Period defies conventional picture book formatting, turning it into its strongest point. To begin with, a short table of contents presents itself, an unusual addition that helps marcate the progression of this longer-than-usual picture book. The chapters aren't superfluous; in fact, they aid in moving the pace forward and jumping in time without forcing artificial stops in the story's flow by letting the reader know that a new scene can be expected to begin.

The illustrations also start spilling over the pages from the very first chapter. The artist, Lisa Brown, uses watercolour to render contained visual vignettes that complement the story perfectly, often in a sequential collage format to accompany the text as it moves from locale to locale. Little details such as a black cat that is never actually mentioned follow the story. And furthermore, the text is integrated fully into the art, so that speech bubbles show conversations sans dialogue tags and sentences are finished in the illustrations themselves.

Finally, the story itself is a simple one, but made above par by less-is-more writing and the theme of using art as a medium to express sorrow and change and to rediscover love and the meaning of home. Emily, her brother and her parents are characterized marvelously efficiently in just a few lines of dialogue, which ensures the ending of this book will have all the emotional resonance to make the final few words touching, rather than cheesy. My favourite page in the whole book is page 54; the combination of art plus text placement is simply stellar.

Ethnic balance: N/A.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5