Spring is almost upon us, and, with it, the festival of colours — Holi. Playing with colours can be fun, but is there more to hues than what we give them credit for?
Can colours speak for themselves? How does one befriend them? And what is it that they try to teach us about life? Appropriate for 8+, The Colour Book by Sophie Benini Pietromarchi (2014, Tara Books) is a tribute to the vivid universe that swathes us in its many-splendoured hues. Pietromarchi uses minimal words and a collage-like palette to take readers through the importance of colour — as an associative tool for memories, as an emotional moodboard, and then to more academic practices of mixing colours and creating a palette of one’s own for artistic pursuits. It’s a warm, reflective book that encourages readers to think of colours beyond the framework of art and as a reference to one’s life experiences.
While Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Lemons Are Not Red hogs all the attention when it comes to introductory books on colours, the excellence of her craft is distilled equally well in Green (2012, Roaring Brook Press), a book appropriate for the very young (3+). Seeger takes up green and explores the complexity of the shade through her trademark die-cuts and acrylic illustrations. Lime green, sea green, jungle green, pea green — the options are fascinating as are the possibilities of “reading” this book.
If we are talking colours, can skin tones and race be left out of the conversation? When American author Karen Katz and her husband adopted their daughter from Guatemala, she would feel the need to write a book that explained colour and questions of race to her young one. In The Colours of Us (2002, Square Fish, appropriate for 5+), little Lena wants to draw herself and she chooses brown paint to colour her image with. But as she goes for a walk with her mother in the neighbourhood, she realises that even brown has its own shades. There’s “caramel” and “chocolate brown” and “peachy tan” and all sorts of shades that she could never have imagined. It’s the perfect occasion for her mother to talk about diversity and how all of us are unique in our own skin. In a country obsessed with fairness, perhaps, it would be a good idea to start these conversations bright and early.
A purple dinosaur, a black wolf, a green fish and a red horse are only some of the creatures that husband-wife illustrator couple Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher came up with to express a gamut of emotions that Dr Seuss talks about in My Many Coloured Days (1996, Knopf Books, appropriate for 5+). Rendered in rhymes, this book also speaks of the human tendency to link emotions with colours, and is a realisation of what Dr Seuss had outlined, in a letter in 1973 that accompanied the manuscript, about a “colour artist” who would actively transform his vision into images that could hold their own. Each emotion is exemplified by a colour and an animal and the text and the illustrations grow progressively complex to explain our variations in mood through a day. Unlike a typical Dr Seuss romp, this book is quiet and reflective, explaining to children that it’s alright to be distressed sometimes or angry and that, in the end, it, too, shall pass.
But if colours form the essence of our life experiences, what about those without sight? How do they embrace the world and make it their own? Venezuelan author Menena Cottin’s award-winning book, The Black Book of Colours (2008, Groundwood Books), illustrated by Rosana Faria, takes its young readers on a tactile, experiential journey of discovering alternative ways of seeing with its blind protagonist, Thomas. The black pages of this thought-provoking book, appropriate for 5+, have textured art on the right-hand page and a basic textual explanation on the left, with a translation in Braille below. For Thomas, colours are tied up in shades of experiences that he has through touch, taste or smell — offering also, a philosophical reflection on the nature of our fragmentary understanding of life. While it serves its purpose as a sensitising tool and an introduction to Braille for the sighted, there has been some criticism over the rendition of Braille — the heaviness of the page often hamper the sharpness of the Braille script, therefore making it laborious reading for those without sight.