by Kathryn Otoshi
This picture book about a bully stands out from others on this theme for its deceptive simplicity and its message of inclusion. Even very young children can understand the dynamics at work among the characters. Blue, pictured as an imperfect circle on the book’s predominantly white cover, is “a quiet color.” Blue enjoys “looking up at the sky,/ floating on the waves,/ and on days he felt daring. . ./ splashing in rain puddles.” For each of these activities, his shape shifts, seeming to stretch toward the sky or to pull gravitationally toward a puddle. As Blue wishes “every once in a while,” that he could be “more sunny like Yellow. Or bright like Green,” these hues, along with “regal” Purple and “outgoing” Orange, take on personality by their watercolor brush strokes. “Overall, [Blue] liked being Blue… except when he was with Red.” Otoshi sets the bully, Red, apart with thick swirling strokes of what appear to be acrylic or oil paint: “Red was a hot head./ He liked to pick on Blue.” The blue dot bends, as if cowering before Red, before flattening into a puddle (“Then Blue would feel bad about being Blue”). All the other colors are fond of Blue privately, but “never told Red to stop” picking on him. Each mean feat causes Red to grow until no other color is safe; the Red circle overtakes the spread as the other colors, like Blue, flatten (“Then everyone felt. . . a little blue”). But One, a gray-shaped numeral “with bold strokes and squared corners,” stands tall. He entertains the others. “Stop laughing!” says Red. All of them do, except One. When the gray fellow says, “I, for One, stand up and say, No,” he inspires the others. (“Then Yellow felt brave and said, “Me Two!”) As the characters grow in number and band together, Red shrinks in size. Red starts to roll away, but Blue is the one to call him back (“Can Red be hot. . ./ And Blue be cool?”). In Otoshi’s world, there’s room for everyone.