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Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#13)

#13: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (1948)
86 points (12 votes, #1, #1, #1, #10, #4, #7, #4, #9, #4, #9, #1, #8)

I’d like to see any illustrator today take up the challenge of producing a book with art created entirely out of blue ink, and still have it be as visually compelling and humorous as Blueberries for Sal.  The story is a bit charmingly dated — if you can get your hands on a hardcover edition, check out the endpaper illustrations featuring Sal and her mother canning berries on a woodburning stove — but still as appealing to kids as ever.  Even if, in reality, Sal probably would have been eaten right up by that bear. – Brooke Shirts

Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.  After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my all-time favorite picture book.  It’s probably not a coincidence that I lived in Maine from birth to age 10.  We had raspberries, though.  I never heard any kerplinking or kerplanking.  Even if I used a metal pail instead of a plastic tumbler, I think raspberries would just sound like a thud, which is onomatopoetically lame…but they were all routed directly to my mouth.  My dad would return to the house with a full cup, and mine would be empty. – Amy Graves

I was speaking with a fellow librarian the other day about a classic children’s book (which shall remain nameless) that both of us missed in our youth.  Our response to it was not overwhelmingly positive, and we figured that had to be because we "missed it".  Now I don’t remember reading Blueberries for Sal as a kid, but I don’t think it’s possible to "miss" the appeal of this one.  Brooke and Amy have already pinpointed the two major reasons why:  Blueberry picking is the ultimate child sport, and any author/illustrator who can make blue ink continually compelling must be some kind of genius.  I’ve heard theories that speculate that part of the charm of this book also lies in the boy/girl nature of Sal.  She/He walks about in those gender neutral overalls and long, but not too long, hair.  We associate the name "Sal" with "Sally", but it could just as easily be a nickname for "Salvador" and the like.  It’s a theory anyway.

The Amazon summary of the plot reads, "Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk go the blueberries into the pail of a little girl named Sal who–try as she might–just can’t seem to pick as fast as she eats. Robert McCloskey’s classic is a magical tale of the irrepressible curiosity–not to mention appetite–of youth. Sal and her mother set off in search of blueberries for the winter at the same time as a mother bear and her cub. A quiet comedy of errors ensues when the young ones wander off and absentmindedly trail the wrong mothers."

Minders of Make-Believe has a section on McCloskey that sums the man up pretty well.  "As May Massee’s protege and the son-in-law of Newbery Medal winner Ruth Sawyer, McCloskey, his genuinely modest midwestern manner notwithstanding, was as close to being picture-book royalty as it was possible to come." And Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer offers this consideration of the book: "Blueberries for Sal shows how we select the sweetness in the world and how adventure – little Sal confronted with a baby bear – can resolve itself through taste."  Lerer then goes on to say that, in a sense, this book had a sequel.  "In One Morning in Maine, Sal has grown to an age when she can lose a tooth – and lose it she does, as she and her family go clam-digging."  Huh.  I had no idea.  I’ve even read and enjoyed One Morning in Maine, but the name "Sal" never quite struck my notice.

Blueberries for Sal made the news recently when it was discovered that book, against all logic and reason, was out of print.  In the April 9, 2009 Publishers Weekly article The Return of ‘Blueberries for Sal’, however, the entire situation was explained and resolved.  You see the McCloskey estate wanted to renegotiate the rights and when an immediate solution wasn’t available Viking had to take the book off the market.  The happy ending?  The article says:

"Viking plans to print 50,000 copies of Blueberries, which should be available in late May or early June. Though the new book will share its ISBN with the previous edition, unlike its predecessor it will have a jacket and cream-colored stock, and Viking is using a first-edition copy of Blueberries to ‘re-originate’ the book’s art. ‘The blue is more blue and less black,’ said Hayes. ‘We’re going to try to replicate the original colors as closely as we can’."

said it was, "Amusing and suspenseful and entirely childlike in appeal."

And School Library Journal‘s starred review said, "All the color and flavor of the sea and pine-covered Maine countryside." 

Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include:























About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I like this book, and the scene where Sal’s mother discovers Sal is missing gives me the chills. Someone needs to make a parody version of this where things don’t work out so well. *wink*

    This book has two sequels. The other is ‘Time of Wonder’.

    The first time we read ‘One Morning in Maine’, my son had a tooth fall out during the reading. I think the book inspired him to help the tooth out with his tongue. Nevertheless, it was pretty cool.

  2. Jen Robinson says:

    Blueberries for Sal is one of my favorites. Glad to see it making an appearance here.

    Also, Betsy, I wanted to share a suggestion with you. I mentioned your contest over on Booklights, and a commenter mentioned how nice it would be to see your top 100 list featured in some way on Amazon. Worth a thought, anyway…

  3. Thank goodness I didn’t enter in my guesses for the Top 10 yet because both Lily and Blueberries were on it! I am just racking my brain to think what 10 books haven’t might be there!

  4. Having grown up in NH, This was always a favorite. My son loved it when I introduced him to it at around the age of 3, and we were able to follow up with a visit to grandparents where we took small tin pails up a local mountain to kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk ourselves. No bears, though.

  5. My blueberry picking as a child was in Michigan — and they might have been huckleberries. But this story captures the attraction berry-picking has for all children. -wendie old

  6. Maureen says:

    My mother being a teacher, we had this in our bookshelves since before I can remember. I remember holding the floppy paperback in my hands, with the horizontal cover one way and the vertical cover on the other side (remember how they used to do that?). What a great book. It’s one of those classics that’s encoded so deeply in my literary memory that I don’t remember *not* knowing the story.


  1. […] Bird, E. (2009, April 30). Top 100 picture books poll results (#13). [School Library Journal web log].  Retrieved from: […]