Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus (review)
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Reviewed by
Naberhaus, Sarvinder Blue Sky White Stars; illus. by Kadir Nelson. Dial, 2017[32p]
ISBN 978-0-8037-3700-6 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 3–5

This picture-book tribute to the flag provides a creative take as spreads offer a page focusing on the flag’s attributes (“Blue sky white stars,” featuring the blue portion of the flag), then use the same (or homonymic) text that treat an aspect of American geography or history (“Blue sky white stars,” featuring the Statue of Liberty under a starry moonlit sky). It’s a beautifully designed book, from its oversized spreads to its carefully chosen font colors (in red, white, or blue depending on necessary contrast), and while some of the images are hackneyed (an eagle in flight, pioneers in a Conestoga wagon), Nelson’s sweeping oil paintings gives them a storied grandeur. What’s an attractive but sometimes cheesy tribute gets more complicated in some [End Page 462] spreads, however, with an interracial group of civil rights marchers holding hands and a flag under “Woven together,” and an interracial group of soldiers (including Harriet Tubman) in Union uniforms embodying “Stand proud.” The result is an interesting acknowledgment of the country’s history of division, but it raises questions about who’s standing proud, why, and against whom that make this book more suitable to an older in-the-know audience, who are likely to find much of the book’s pretty patriotism unstimulating. In addition, the book’s final sequence follows the planting of the flag on the moon, a reference that both makes for a strangely dated culmination and treats uncritically some of the American impulses the title has previously challenged. As a result, this title might be best employed in a discussion of its iconography that can open up the images to thoughtful scrutiny and consideration, which will also help viewers appreciate their beauty. Brief author’s and illustrator’s notes are provided; readers are directed to the author’s website (no URL provided in the note) for more information.

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