If there's one thing librarians like, it's categorizing stuff. We just adore it. Lining everything up in its proper place, classifying a random bunch of things, making order out of chaos, well, that's the cornerstone of our profession. And while some take it a little too far (cue the stereotype of the rigid old lady with her bun pulled too tight), the rest of us see the beauty in organization. After all, if things are classified in a systematic way, it makes everything easier to find, right?
Well, that's true, but it's also the case that authors and publishers love to throw us curveballs. One of the hidden secrets of my own job is the extent to which we all consult to determine how to categorize materials so patrons can find them. Because after all, it's the rare person who comes into a library or bookstore armed with title/author/ISBN/publisher (present company excluded, of course). And so we deliberate over classification, over subject heading and series listings, and all the little moving pieces that make it possible for patrons to head up to a catalog and type in something like "animals train" and pull up Steam Train, Dream Train, for example. (Trust me, it works.)
And then along comes a book like Jessica Young's My Blue is Happy and all that carefully organized classification goes out the window. Oh it's a picture book, all right, that much is clear. But what's the subject? Colors, maybe -- you could easily put it with concepts because Young is describing each color using metaphors, if nonstandard ones, and the book is rich with saturated hues thanks to the illustrations by Catia Chien. Moods, perhaps -- our protagonist is considering the interpretation that someone else has about a particular color and contrasting that with the mood she is sometimes in. Or maybe it's creativity, and how we are all inspired by the same basic elements in different ways. Hmmm.
Luckily we don't have to narrow it down too much, and we can assign subject headings that encompass all of these aspects, and more if we need them. But still this is a tough book to boil down. I would argue that the elemental message of this book is that we all view life through our own unique lens. Even though most people have one association with something, you might have another take on it, and that's perfectly okay. The narrator knows that blue is sad for her sister, but she herself finds it happy, like swimming in the pool on a summer day. Orange might be fun for her cousin, but this girl finds it foreboding, like there's danger ahead. And she's not cheery with yellow, like Mom, but rather worried, like a trapped butterfly.
My Blue is Happy is a great title for talking with kids about how they view the world, and introducing the notion that we don't all see things in the same way. This may be a debut, but Young's confidence in her thesis is strong and her voice follows suit. It's definitely a title that will spark creativity in even the most seriously grounded youngsters (and grownups). Chien takes the same base color -- brown, for example, and shows how one tone of the color brings up one feeling to someone, while another tone has an entirely different connotation. The visuals are strong and impactful, and the message is one that will resonate with kids: being yourself can mean that you have a different view of things, and that's where the beauty and variety of life reside.
For little ones just starting to find their independence, Young's message is reassuring and supports the importance of individuality. Hey, even librarians don't agree all the time -- though I think most would find My Blue is Happy stands out all on its own.
My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young, published by Candlewick Press
Sample: "The boy next door says red is angry / Like a dragon's burning breath. / But my red is as brave as a fire truck / And my superhero cape."