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Top 100 Picture Books #31: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

#31 Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (1948)
54 points

It’s hard to pick a favorite McCloskey, but I think of this one every time I pick blueberries. – Jessalyn Gale

Honestly, I think my favorite part as a kid was just staring at the endpapers with the scene of Sal and her mom in the kitchen, noticing all the details. This is a hangover favorite from childhood that I really can’t otherwise think to say what’s so great about it except that I always loved it. – Amy M. Weir

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 not too long ago 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’.”

  • For a modern tribute to the book, be sure you check out Ashley Wolff’s Baby Bear Sees Blue.

Booklist 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.”

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. Huh. My copy is much more black than blue. Blue makes sense, though.

  2. Priscilla Cordero says

    Betsy –Bluberries for Sal was #13 on your original list–has it changed or am I missing something?