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HomeLatest news for KidsChildren’s Book WeekChildren’s Book Week Review – Blue Flower

Welcome to the new Cockburn Libraries website. We've added some new features and refreshed the old. Read More

HomeLatest news for KidsChildren’s Book WeekChildren’s Book Week Review – Blue Flower

Welcome to the new Cockburn Libraries website. We've added some new features and refreshed the old. Read More

HomeLatest news for KidsChildren’s Book WeekChildren’s Book Week Review – Blue Flower

Welcome to the new Cockburn Libraries website. We've added some new features and refreshed the old. Read More

HomeLatest news for KidsChildren’s Book WeekChildren’s Book Week Review – Blue Flower
Link to Catalogue record for Blue Flower

Blue Flower by Sonya Hartnett and Gabriel Evans

This book was part of the Notable list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Picture Book of the Year.

Not all cats are tabby. Not all trees are tall. Not all clouds are white and not all flowers are yellow. A beautiful and inspiring story, from award-winning writer Sonya Hartnett, about the discovery that being different can be something wonderful.

I’m not sure where to start with this review so I’ll start with my favourite line.

‘Being different isn’t easy, until you decide it’s a good thing to be.”

What a profound comment and something that gets to the heart of the book and why I enjoyed it so much. I’m sure all of the adults out there reading, and the kids, remember feeling that desire to be like other people; to be able to run fast, make people laugh, know the answer, understand the school work, etc.

Everyone feels like that sometimes.

Throughout the beginning of the book the main character explains all of the reasons they don’t want to go to school, all of the things that make them feel inadequate, anxious, all of the ways they are different and unlike their peers. I loved school, I am one of those people who put their hand up and wanted to share the answer and I’m the person who, even now, will throw myself on the dagger of being the first person to share to break the ice knowing that others don’t want to do it. However, I understand this book, I really get the feelings, I know that desire to just avoid the situation that is making you anxious/socially anxious. I know the insecurity that comes with comparison and I felt every moment with this character even though I was connecting with a different situation.

Then the main character reaches the peak of their feelings – never called anxiety but that’s how it looks to me, and talks to their mum. And she drops that truth bomb/mic drop/perfect line that I should print on a t-shirt from above and they chat and then the main character goes outside to have some sulking time with their cat – they don’t want to be different. Of course, sulking time is often good thinking time as we know and the character starts to see the differences all around them. Not all cats are the same, not all flowers are yellow (some are BLUE), and eventually they think about the ways they have spoken to themselves about their difference and they identify their negative self-talk. Then in the second oh my goodness, I want to become best friends with the author because I love this book and the decisions she makes moment the main character says sorry to themselves for the way they have spoken in their head. I love this moment, it’s such a powerful message and so important – we have a responsibility to be kind to ourselves just as much as we do to others so if we apologise for saying something unkind to someone shouldn’t we do the same to ourselves? I want you to think about the last time you self-talked to yourself negatively and apologise to yourself…how good does that feel? What a powerful tool to teach children? I’m going to stop flailing about this to you now but I’m going to do so to go and tell all of my library colleagues about it.

The main character is given no name, no personal pronouns, hair that could be worn by anyone, so we as readers are given the opportunity to see it through our personal reading lens. I assumed it was a young girl until I started to read more deeply for this review but who knows if that is because women are more open about mental health struggles traditionally, because of my personal positioning at the time of reading it (COVID, borders opening, personal situations are conspiring to make me one big anxiety ball), or something else. Every person reading the book has the opportunity to see themselves. This is aided by the use of first person, the book is told using I. As you’re reading it you may not see yourself in every moment but I’m sure all children will see themselves in some of them.

Gabriel Evans, a WA author and illustrator who is involved in the Make Your Own Storybook competition, is the illustrator of this book and he does so well tying the feelings invoked by the story into the illustrations. One of the perks of my job is getting to meet and hear authors and illustrators talk and one of the things that comes up repeatedly is that often the creative process between author and illustrator in picture books is very segmented. The author and illustrator don’t communicate during the process, unless they find a way around it, so one of the amazing things about this book is how connected it feels. To be in the picture book category the book has to: “Entries in this category should be outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations.” That’s a very tall order if you can’t communicate except through the words the author has written or the images the illustrator has created but it’s achieved beautifully in this book.

The cover image is from within the book and the freedom and joy encompassed in the image works so beautifully for the moment but also in contrast with the other images. When the main character is explaining the things that make them hesitant about school, the things that make them anxious or jealous then the colours are more muted, that feeling of wanting to fade into the background is shown in the way the character is drawn and painted. There is a rich visual language included in the book that any teacher could deep dive into with their class and tease out for weeks. When the mother in the book shares her wisdom about individuality the illustrations change but subtly; there is something brighter and bolder about them even though the same palette comes through. And that beautiful blue comes back as the main character comes to realise that maybe ‘just different’ is perfect.

This is a beautiful book and I really hope to see a Gold winner sticker on it come August. I’d encourage anyone who is struggling with anxiety to read this and anyone who likes books to do so as well. I would probably read this with anyone three and over but I’m definitely going to include it in my Children’s Book Week Storytime.