Picture books of the day: the yellows and blues of the visually striking Grains of Sand and Tim’s Goodbye

Grains of Sand, illustrated and written by Sibylle Delacroix, published by Owlkids Books, ISBN: 978-1771472050.

Tim’s Goodbye, illustrated and written by Steven Salerno, published by Farrar Straus Giroux, ISBN:  978-0374306472.

At my children’s library job I often find myself in the delightful position of having brand new giant piles of picture books standing tall on my desk. Sometimes as I happily explore each new title, I start seeing intriguing similarities between books that may otherwise feel quite dissimilar. In the case of Sibylle Delacroix’s Grains of Sand (originally published in France in 2017 under the name Graines de sable by Bayard Éditions) and Steven Salerno’s Tim’s Goodbye, I noticed right away that, while different in tone and intent, they both beautifully use the colors yellow and blue to great effect. In fact, in addition to some grays, whites, or blacks, yellow and blue are the only two colors in them. Other similarities emerge. Both books portray sensitive, imaginative children in pensive moods. 2018 has been a strong year for the representation of introspective children, with such works as Jillian Tamaki’s They Say Blue, Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened, author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator Rafael López’s The Day You Begin, among many others, respecting the inner-thoughts and moods of young children.

Grains of Sand feels like an equally mischievous cousin to They Say Blue, although it doesn’t get quite as philosophical as Jillian Tamaki’s Boston Globe-Horn Book winning title. It’s a more straightforward celebration of imaginative play. But it shares with They Say Blue a sense of surreal wonder nonetheless. Delacroix does a beautiful job capturing that melancholy feeling that the last day of a summer vacation provides. A young boy and girl look forlorn as dad packs up the family car in the expertly rendered background. Just look at the boy rubbing the water of his eyes (or is he crying?) as the first person narrator girl looks sadly at the ground. The only color on the page is the blue of his shirt and her shorts. On the next page, the girl sits on the camp’s porch and pours yellow sand out of her sandal. Her curious brother (I love that his name is Ulysses) and she then engage in a conversation about what to do with the grains of sand. “Let’s plant them,” she declares. The next several spreads wonderfully show what would grow if you planted sand, and Delacroix surprises page after page. A field of beach umbrellas! A forest of pinwheels! Lemon-flavored ice cream! Each double page spread is filled with joy and wonder as the children find a way to alleviate the sorrows of a fun vacation coming to an end. Her use of the colors is masterful.

Tim’s Goodbye also ends with feelings of hope, although it’s a heartbreaker of a book. Steven Salerno uses a retro style (the kids look like they’re from the ’50s or early ’60s) and it works here. It’s a book of quiet mystery and one big sad surprise. On the first page we see, on the left hand side of the double page spread, a girl named Margot leaning against a chair that seems to be outside. The details are spare, with only four flowers and what appears to be a rock on the right side. Everything is yellow except for black lines and her white bow and shirt, the flowers, and the hazy outline of the sun. Salerno keeps the language quick and direct, and does a beautiful job showing how Margot’s emotions conflict with the yellow sunniness of the day: “On this sunny day Margot was feeling sad.” A flip of the page. “Tim was gone,” we read as Margot sits on the chair. Who is Tim? What does Salerno mean by “gone.” Unusual behavior that keeps the reader guessing follows: characters leaving and then reappearing, a boy named Vincent suddenly enters a spread seemingly floating through the air while holding balloons, a girl named Melinda walks into the scene carrying a French horn. Vincent and his pal Roger carry an empty box. Soon we discover that this is a funeral for Tim. And that Tim is a turtle. And that Tim has been there the entire time–he’s the figure we thought was a rock. Now books about pet death are always tearjerkers, and Tim’s Goodbye is no exception. There’s something beautiful about the way Margot and her friends give Tim a beautiful, loving funeral, putting him in a box that floats away with three blue balloons attached while Miranda plays her French horn. The final spreads showing the box float into the cosmos, and Tim becoming an imagined constellation really pack a wallop. Knowing that Margot will stare at the nighttime sky (that goes from blue to star-peppered black) and see her dearly parted friend ends the book on a poignant, powerful note.

My favorite picture books are the ones that I instantly remember thanks to vibrant imagery. When I close my eyes I can see images from both Grains of Sand and Tim’s Goodbye. Delacroix’s and Salerno’s expert use of color, their impressive way of capturing what it feels like being a kid (both hopeful and melancholy). Everything adds up to two very rich emotional and visual experiences.


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