I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the seasons. Every year Valentine’s Day shows up and I’m always utterly baffled by its appearance. This year, though, I figured I’d actually promote a cute little pink book somewhat near to the season itself.
Love lends itself to the picture book format with remarkably variegated results. Sometimes you get a straight love story like Sara Pennypacker’s Pierre In Love. Sometimes you’ve something a little sadder, if more honest, like Russell Hoban’s, The Marzipan Pig. And sometimes you’ve a title that is oddly sweet like Maria Van Lieshout’s, Bloom. A story of both infatuation and love, Van Lieshout presents a short, infinitely adorable book that packs a wallop with apparent ease.
Though she is urged to play in a puddle, the soft pink piglet Bloom decides to go off and do her own thing one day. And since she loves flowers so much, down she lies beneath a canopy of lovely petals. To her amazement, a butterfly or “flying flower” swoops by and it’s love at first sight. Bloom is immediately entranced, but despite her protestations of adoration the flying flower leaves her. When her friend sees her upset by her sudden abandonment he brings her the loveliest flower he can find and then leads her to a puddle where he has scattered the blooms all about. Charmed, Bloom agrees to play in that puddle, not even noticing the fickle butterfly swooping not far above.
The book isn’t judgmental, which is interesting. Bloom falls for a butterfly, but there isn’t a kind of “stick to your own kind” of message to be had here. In fact, we’re never entirely certain that the butterfly itself wasn’t leading Bloom on. I mean, when she sees it for the first time the text reads, “They looked into each other’s eyes for a long time.” But the minute Bloom brings up the L-word, that butterfly is out of there faster n’ lightning. It doesn’t have a face or appear as anything but your standard wings and antennae, but I label this flying flower a fly by night lover if ever there was one.
On the back cover of this book it says that Ms. Van Lieshout is originally from Holland and has since settled in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have pegged her style as particularly Dutch, but when I found out where she was originally from it seemed natural. This book is all thin black lines and understated swoops of the pen. Van Lieshout then combines pen-and-inks, watercolors, and crayons at strategic points. The result is sometimes very spare and often quite striking. Emotions tend to be indicated by either a slight reddening in a character’s face or, in moment of extreme emotion, the entire page will match what someone is feeling. When Bloom blushes it sometimes causes a whole sea of red to erupt around her. The blue butterfly she falls in love with is the only color in this book that isn’t red-based, and I was particularly fond of the moment when it disappears above. As Bloom stands, four feet apart, nose pointed up in the air, only the smallest dot of blue is visible in a clear white sky above. And when she screams on the next page, a crayon cloud of anger and frustration emerges from her, reminding the reader of the pigeon’s temper tantrum in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!. This is a little book too, coming in at a mere 7″ X 7″. Smart move, since I don’t think a large format could have supported the artist’s spare style.
Bloom is in serious danger of coming across as an adult title in picture book form. Falling in love and then finding that the object of your affection doesn’t love you back? Everyone gets that, though the romantic aspects are definitely post-pubescent. But I think Bloom leaves the door open enough to introduce other aspects of love. Kids who adore cats that don’t love them back, for example. An editor once wondered whether or not kids would even dig a book about romantic love. But even if readers don’t extrapolate this into other types of adoration, I could still see a serious audience for it. I was one of those kids obsessed with the notion of romantic love. I’d watch shows like Sesame Street with an eye on certain characters, hoping they’d hook up (and back then, they did). So yes. Love is very much a picture book friendly concept. Not everyone is gonna dig it, but not everyone digs train or dinosaur stories either and those tend to do pretty well.
When reviewers use the term “nice” it’s widely considered to be backhanded praise. “Nice” suggests that the book in question is fine but not particularly literary. I would make an exception in the case of Bloom, which I happened to find beautifully drawn, finely honed, and nice. Nice and sweet, this is best described as a gentle little sigh of a book. Worth reading.
- Take a gander at the Publishers Weekly review.
- Bloom has a rather nice website that is worth checking out.
- And, of course, there is the book trailer too.