Monday, July 30, 2012

Picture Book Review - Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell

Sprout recently started a new preschool, and among other things that they did his first few weeks was color mixing. These brave souls actually took it on themselves to present a bunch of preschoolers with paint colors and allow them to try mixing different shades to see what the result was. Wow, did this ever make a BIG impression on Sprout. Though he's heard a few books about the topic (most notably The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown and White Rabbit's Color Book by Alan Baker), he's never seemed too interested. But give the child a bunch of colors to mix himself and the boy was talking about it nonstop.

Lesson for mommy: more hands-on art stuff at home, in spite of the mess.

Anyway, this got us talking and thinking more about colors. One of the things Sprout mentioned frequently was that when you mix up a bunch of colors, you always got black. "Just black, Mama," was how he put it. Black's a color too, I told him, but he seemed unimpressed -- and kept telling me that his favorite color is orange. Of course I felt I needed to think of a way to convince him that black is a pretty awesome shade on its own.

Luckily, there's a book for that: namely, Patricia Hubbell's Black All Around. In this fun color story, a young girl begins looking at the world around her and noticing all the places she sees the color black. It's in animals - a horse, a cat, beetles, labradors. It's in music - piano keys and clarinets. It's in the environment - fertile dirt, tree trunks, the night sky. And it's in her family - "Daddy's arm, Momma's cheek." (Of course, that last example is arguably more brown, but it's a cultural construct.)

What she notices is that there are all kinds of shades of black, and all kinds of places to find the color. I love the sense of play that's brought to the topic. You'd think a book about the color black would have a mostly dark palette, but illustrator Don Tate (who we love from Ron's Big Mission and Summer Sun Risin') brings in gobs of spirited color. While the family plays with finger puppets (black birds, goats and bunnies), Tate sets the scene against a backdrop of light walls and colorful clothing choices. The effect is that the richness of the black objects really shines through, and little ones will see black in a whole new way. No way is it boring, black's got personality!

For kids who are just beginning to think about color, this is a good introduction to the topic. No, Hubbell never dives into the either-or skin color issue, and her purpose doesn't seem to be solely racially centered. Instead, this is more of a celebration of black, a way for young children to begin noticing the shades of black and to internalize a positive message. And in a world where villains wear black and phrases like "black sheep" or "blackmail" are common, it seems to me that turning the negative connotations around has tremendous value.

And after reading this one, you'll have a new appreciation for the way the color black enriches our world!

Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell, published by Lee & Low Books
Ages 2-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Look high, look low, look everywhere. . . . The wonderful color black is there! / Sleek and jazzy, warm and cozy. Beautiful black, black all around. . . "

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