When I was in school, we were taught how to make simple scratchboards using only crayons and art paper, whereupon we had fun drawing on them with toothpicks and watching the riot of colours peer through the black layer. But never in my wildest dreams did I expect that this technique could be elevated to produce bona fide art (as opposed to our, ahem, chicken scratchings) — particularly that created by Beth Krommes, who combines scratchboard etchings with watercolours to produce drop-dead beautiful, unique illustrations that also tell a story. There’s just something so warm and arresting about her art — whether here, or in Swirl by Swirl or The House in the Night (both of which we also love) — that draws you in, which is exactly what you want when it comes to picture books: to be transported into another world. In some ways, Blue on Blue is reminiscent of The House in the Night, with the illustrations being the perfect complement to the spare, rhyming verses that read like a poem. Here in particular, it seems like every word has been carefully chosen to give sound and life to the evocative images.
Set in the countryside and spanning the course of a day, the book begins with “cotton clouds” in the morning light, and a little girl playing in the sun while her mother hangs the laundry on the clothesline. Then, gradually, the weather turns and the gathering storm drives both animals and people indoors, and the intricate illustrations show how everyone is affected by the thunderstorm in one way or another. Eventually, of course, the rain stops and order is restored, bringing the day — and the book — to a perfect close.
As cheesy as it may sound, there’s something reassuring about watching the storm take shape and then recede, kinda like a positive visual affirmation that every storm, whether literal or metaphorical, will eventually pass.