Flashback Fridays: Living in Color . . .

You’re a wizard living in a world of grey and you’re so unhappy with the look of the world that one day you’re puttering around with potions and invent something new–something you will call BLUE!  But will one color do the trick?  Surely not . . .

Do you remember:


The Great Blueness and other Predicaments by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins, c1968)

It all started with a librarian.  I don’t remember her name, but I remember vividly sitting in the school library in first grade listening to her read us some amazing stories.  That was where I first heard so many books that I still remember fondly.  This was one of them.  However, I didn’t remember the title or the author at the time, so for years I only knew sketches of the plot.  I’d try to figure out the title, but had little success.  Quite by accident, I  was browsing a brand new Arnold Lobel Treasury and lo and behold, in the middle of the book was THAT story!  Ever have that excitement of discovery of something you remember so well but can’t identify or find again?  That was me.  So I took the treasury home to read to my own kids, and reacquaint myself with a piece of my childhood.

Our wizard lives in a land of long ago, where there are no colors and everything is grey.   In this time of the Great Greyness he wants something more, so he goes down to his basement and putters and discovers blue.  Well everyone is so blown away with this new color that they all want it and they paint everything blue.  So begins the Great Blueness–which seems wonderful at first, until  all that blue starts making people sad and gloomy.  Our wizard comes up with another solution: Yellow!  And of course everyone decides to use it to paint the world yellow . . . which eventually gives everyone headaches and makes them irritated.  So the wizard invents Red, the same overpainting ensues and everyone becomes angry and starts fighting with one another.  The wizard can’t seem to invent any other colors … until he realizes he can mix them together to create new ones.  So he make an entire range of colors and gives them to the people and advises them to use all of the colors and not just one.  The results lead to our happy (colorful) ever after.

Now I’ve known of Arnold Lobel for years as a children’s librarian.  Most folks know him for his ever-popular Frog and Toad easy readers.  But he was a prolific creator of picture book for children,  many of them possessing his slightly subversive humor and wild imagination.  The Great Blueness is a marvelous bit of whimsy that connects colors with people’s emotions and behavior, opening the door to discussions of color and its effect, as well as how emotions feel.  It certainly lends itself to artistic discussion!  The straight forward text that keeps the story moving forward at a comfortable clip is perfect for younger children.  My son is happily reading the entire Treasury himself while my daughter begs him to read it to her.

There were stories in the treasury I’d never come across before: Bears of the Air and The Man Who Took the Indoors Out in each of these stories, characters rebel against the normal way of things.  In Bears of the Air, four young bears aren’t interested in doing what their grandpa’s book says are good things for a bear to do.  They want to  play violins and do rope tricks and learn to tightrope walk.  In The Man Who Took the Indoors Out, one singular gentleman decides the indoors should have the opportunity to come outside for the day, and he takes all his indoor furniture and  appliances on a jaunt, but the indoors gets carried away with carousing and takes quite a while to come back home again.  Although Arnold Lobel  died in 1987, these stories still feel lively and delightful today–ready to entertain another generation of children.

What childhood stories have you rediscovered?

Comments welcome!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on November 25, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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