Can you imagine a world without colour, where all you see is black, white or the shades of grey in between? As a self-confessed colour junkie such a world would sap my energies and leave my life (perhaps ironically), somewhat blue.
Thus when two new books came to my attention both titled ‘The Colour Thief’ I was very intrigued; not only did they look like their subject matter would appeal to me, it was funny and surprising to see two books, from different authors/illustrators/publishers with the same title.
In The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo an alien looks longingly across space to planet earth, full of colours and brightness. He believes such a beautiful place must be full of joy, and so sets off to bring some of that happiness back to his home planet.
With just a few magic words the alien is able to suck up first all the reds, then the blues and the greens and before long planet earth is looking very grey and sad. But what of the alien? Can he really be happy when he sees the glumness he has caused?
Alborozo’s story about kindness, desire and what makes us joyous and content is full of appeal. There are lots of themes which can be explored; from the beauty around us which we might take for granted (requiring an outsider to alert us to us), to whether or not we can be happy if we’ve caused others distress, this book could be used to open up lots of discussion.
Although the alien’s actions could be frightening, this is mitigated by his cute appearance, just one of the book’s charms. I also think kids will love the apparent omnipotence of the alien: He wants something, and at his command he gets it, just like that, and this identification with the alien makes the story more interesting and unusual. The artwork is fun and energetic, seemingly filled with rainbow coloured confetti. I can easily imagine a wonderful animation of this story.
The Colour Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters, illustrated by Karin Littlewood is a very different sort of story. It draws on the authors’ own experience of parental depression, exploring from a child’s perspective what it can feel like to watch a parent withdraw as they suffer from this illness.
Father and son lead a comforting life “full of colour”, but when depression clouds the father’s mind he withdraws, and all the colours around the family seem to disappear. The child worries that he might somehow be the cause of this loss, but he is repeatedly reassured it is not his fault and gradually, with patience and love, colours start to seep back into the father’s life and he returns to his family.
Mental health is difficult to talk about when you’re 40, let alone when you are four, but this lyrical and moving book provides a thoughtful, gentle, and unsentimental way into introducing (and if desired, discussing) depression. If you were looking for “when a book might help” to reassure a child in a specific situation, I would wholeheartedly recommend this; it is honest, compassionate and soothing.
However, I definitely wouldn’t keep this book ONLY for those times when you find a child in a similar circumstances to those described in the book. It is far too lovely to be kept out of more general circulation. For a start, the language is very special; it’s perhaps no surprise when you discover that one of the author’s has more than 70 poetry books to his name. If you were looking for meaningful, tender use of figurative language, for example in a literacy lesson, this book provides some fabulous, examples.
And then there are the illustrations. Karin Littlewood has long been one of my favourite illustrators for her use of colour, her graceful compositions, her quiet kindness in her images. And in The Colour Thief there are many examples of all these qualities. I particularly like her use of perspective first to embody the claustrophobia and fear one can feel with depression, with bare tree branches leaning in onto the page, or street lamps lowering overhead, and then finally the open, sky-facing view as parent and child reunite as they walk together again when colour returns.
Particularly inspired by the imagery in Alborozo’s The Colour Thief we made a trip to a DIY store to pick up a load of paint chips.
Wow. My kids went crazy in the paint section: Who knew paint chips could be just so much fun? They spent over an hour collecting to their hearts’ desire. A surprising, free and fun afternoon!
Once home we snipped up the paint chips to separate each colour. The colour names caused lots of merriment, and sparked lots of equally outlandish ideas for new colour names, such as Beetlejuice red, Patio grey, Spiderweb silver and Prawn Cocktail Pink.
We talked about shades and intensity of colours, and sorted our chips into three piles: Strong, bright colours, off-white colours, and middling colours. I then put a long strip of contact paper on the kitchen table, sticky side up, and the kids started making a mosaic with the chips, starting with the brightest colours in the middle, fading to the palest around the edge.
Apart for the soothing puzzle-like quality of this activity, the kids have loved using the end result as a computer keyboard, pressing the colours they want things to change to. I also think it makes for a rather lovely bit of art, now up in their bedroom.
Whilst making our colour mosaic we listened to:
Other activities which might go well with either version of ‘The Colour Thief’ include:
If you know someone suffering from depression these charities may be of help:
Disclosure: I received free review copies of both books reviewed today from their respective publishers.
Some other books I have since found with the same title but by different authors/illustrators/publishers include:
‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats, and ‘The Snowy Day’ by Anna Milbourne and Elena Temporin
‘Bubble and Squeak’ by Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud and Susan Banta, and ‘Bubble and Squeak’ by James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy
‘My Dad’ by Anthony Browne, ‘My Dad’ by Steve Smallman and Sean Julian, and ‘My Dad’ by Chae Strathie and Jacqueline East