Review of the Day: In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck
This? Bandwagon jumping. Totally fun. You should try it.
You know that feeling you have when you’re a fan of something (could be an artist, television show, songwriter, you name it) and they just don’t seem to be getting enough attention? And on the one hand that makes you a little happy because now you have a secret special somebody or something that’s yours and yours alone. And on the other hand you love this thing or person and you want it to get acknowledged. You want other people to see what you see and to appreciate what you appreciate. Well, I’ve been like that for years with illustrator Tricia Tusa. I watched her illustrate How to Make a Night and Fred Stays With Me!. I observed her clever paperback covers for Eleanor Estes’ Moffat series. I bit my nails and waited for her to be paired with just the right author at just the right time. Someone who could give her a meaty text that perfectly complemented her charm. Enter first time picture book author Jim Averbeck. Pair his gentle bedtime tones to Tusa’s images and what you’re left with is the best bedtime tale I’ve read in many years.
Alice is wide-awake and bouncing on the bed when her mother enters. After informing her mom that the only way she’ll be able to fall asleep is in a blue room (and the yellow walls make THAT pretty unlikely) her patient mother brings in different items one by one. There are lilacs and lilywhites for scent. There is tea in a cup for taste, a silky soft quilt for touch, and lullaby bells for sound. Finally, just as Alice begins to drift off to sleep, her mother turns out the light. The light of the moon comes in “bathing everything in its pale blue light.” Everything now the same color, Alice sleeps soundly in her room turned blue at last.
I am sure, I am certain, I am left without so much as a droplet of doubt that there is a child in this country who will pick up this book, look at the cover, and announce (not without a note of self-satisfaction), “That room’s not blue!” Well done, child. You are correct to some extent. The repeated assurance that Alice is in a blue room will confuse some people initially, but I think our kids are smart enough to realize that the blue is coming, even if it isn’t THERE at all times. Mr. Averbeck has also somehow hit upon the perfect number of words per page. There are never too many and there are never too few. Told entirely in the present tense, it melds colors, the five senses, and repetition (the ultimate comfort to a child) in a rhythmic series. You feel safe in Averbeck’s world.
Sometimes at my library someone will come in and ask for a book of the five senses for their kids. I’ll hand them the usual Aliki My Five Senses fare, but just for kicks it’s sometimes fun to also give them a picture book that drills each sense home. Averbeck’s book does this, and I suspect it may also inspire some parents to start similar bedtime routines. Maybe they’ll start bringing in flowers for bedtime scents, or maybe a jazz CD for the sounds (the Blues?). There is something remarkably peaceful about this book too. I like to think that maybe it has something to do with the quality of the blue Tusa chose for the ending. It’s that blue/gray color you get on certain moonlit evenings. With the white white stars and the single moon shedding its light on the front of the house, the combination of these images with Averbeck’s soothing words is near hypnotic. This is the kind of book children dwell on and remember, long after they’ve forgotten. If you know what I mean.
Ms. Tusa’s illustrations are rendered here in ink, watercolor, and gouache. She does quite a lot with shadows and light, two aspects of her paintings that I’ve never really noticed before. The bright lamplight manages to convey in its starkness the dark outside. And as always, her characters are key. When Alice’s Mama sits on the bed beside her daughter, you can see her weight there. Her physical presence. I also enjoyed the little details in the book, like the fact that the stars and moons on Alice’s blanket slip out of the room when she falls asleep and into the dark night sky. Finally, those last shots of Alice’s house perched on the top of the earth are beautifully haunting.
What’s the market like these days for a good bedtime story? Probably pretty good. As a child, I always enjoyed those books that took place at night. Stories like Sam and the Firefly that really knew how to play around with evening light. In terms of gifts, I’ve already given a copy of this book away to a friend of mine who had a baby shower. There isn’t a person alive who won’t love what Averbeck and Tusa have done here. I hope Harcourt will pair the two of them together again someday so that we can see more books like this one on our shelves. Lovely in every sense of the word.
On shelves now.
Other Blog Reviews:
- A simply splendid review by the ever amazing Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
- Pink Me
- My Readable Feast (with an accompanying blue recipe for putting kids to sleep)
- The Full Mommy
- MSC Art & Books
- An incredibly in-depth and phototastic interview with Jim Averbeck at Seven Impossible Things.
- Another great one at Susan Writes.
- Another one at Charlotte’s Library.
- Another one at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.
- Another one at The Well-Read Child.
- Another one at Becky Levine’s Blog (the man gets around).
- Finally an interview with TRICIA TUSA and you know where it’s at.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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