BOOK REVIEW: On teaching kids about people of color (blue) - Danny Blue's Really Excellent Dream by Max Landrak

Children's Book Council Picture Book of the Year - Notable Book:
An excellent book for teaching kids (and the rest of us) about diversity - or at least being a bit different

Once in a 
blue moon, 
everyone has 
a really, 

How easy is it to write a good 10-and-under children's book?

Flip through the dozens of thin, large-format offerings in the 10-and-under kids section of any bookstore and you think, c'mon, how hard can that be? Large type, short sentences, the occasional big word thrown in (because kids these days listen to your business calls) and of course, cutesy illustrations - not photos. Drawings please. 

Hey, my kid could do that!

But flip a little slower and you'll discover just what it takes to achieve that winning trifecta: a fresh, engaging voice that's accessible but not infantile; a plot that's uncomplicated but not predictable;  a visual treatment you feel you haven't seen somewhere else before ... all laddering up to a stunning central premise that's carried unslavishly to the final endpaper. And if it's also a parable without being preachy, all the better. Once in a blue moon, a book nails it.

Danny Blue's Really Excellent Dream by Australian-Norwegian author, art director and illustrator Max Landrak is a beautifully crafted modern parable, centered around the personal growth of its central character, Danny Blue.

Danny's world is blue to the core (and we're just talking about color here, not clinical depression - that's a dozen other kid's books). He has a dream about something "not blue," but lacks the "not blue" vocabulary to describe it. So he sets about trying to create it in the basement of his father's business, conveniently a paint factory. He succeeds, but as you'd expect, his new discovery is met with horror and rejection by all and sundry, before being tolerated, accepted, embraced and eventually even coveted. All it needs is a name...

OK, you can see where this is going - the story alludes to diversity, tolerance, outgrowing one's personal prejudices and preconceptions and making the world a better, more inclusive place. But that's not to take away from its ability to entrance and enlighten the reader, even a grownup reader.

The words are so carefully chosen, it's almost like reading haiku without the obtuseness. Not surprising, as Max is an award-winning advertising industry pro, where the mantra is "there more you say, the less people hear" and "say it straight, then say it great." The sprinkling of "blue" puns (Blue York et al) are well chosen so as to support rather than cutesify* the story.

Being a story about a single color, the visual presentation might have been a bit tricky to pull off. Max's lyrical illustrations do a lot of the heavy, or rather, delicate lifting here. There's an uncloying charm to Danny's dropped ears and high, or rather, absent philtrum (go ahead, Google it) that channels Simon's Cat sans the mischief, Leunig sans the angst and Jimmy Corrigan sans the pathos. It would be tempting to go for a raging blue vibe al la Yves Klein, but Max has chosen a subtle, restrained hand, as if, in all the strident media messaging around diversity, he's going for quiet thunder. Dysfunctionality central it's not, and that's actually kind of a relief.

The format is standard "children's book" i.e. magazine-sized hardcover - I would have loved to have seen this book published in a smaller format, with more pages and on a tactile board medium that you could prod and poke and flip back and forth, because each illustration is so apropos it deserves space to "breathe" on its own page.

Published by Hachette AustraliaDanny Blue was was named an Australia Children's Book Council Notable Book in the Picture Book of the Year category.

So it's a downunder publication, but Max tells me you'll soon be able to get copies in the USA. It remains to be seen if the only Aussie-centric word in the book gets 'mercanized for local audiences. Which is ...

 *Is that even a word? Let's just call it "the copywriter busting out."


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