Idioms ain’t really idiotic

Out of the Blue: A Book of Color Idioms and Silly Pictures

**** [GOOD]

By Vanita Oelshlager (text) and Robin Hegan (illustrations)
VanitaBooks
ISBN:9780983290421

At times I read books for fun. Other times, I read texts that pile up on my to-be-read shelf to acquire Out of the Blueor deepen my knowledge on a subject. I read Out of the Blue for both. The work gave me a quick refresher on the notion and variety of idioms in the language. Also, the author and illustrator demonstrate a clever way to promote a greater grasp of American English.

Vanita Oelschlager , who bills herself as wife, parent, grandma and ex-teacher, easily demonstrates in the work that she never sheds the mantle of any of those roles. Her text is well structured, organized and clear, written with the kind of passionate tone to educate witnessed in the best exchanges between a loving adult and child. There is also a cleverness in the way that she pumps information into the process of play. Each page is a demonstration of the idea of idiom in a drawing by Robin Hegan that is geared to grab a child’s attention, if not evoke outright laughter. Also, if the adult who shares the book needs a prompt, the entries each have a two-sentence script upside down in the bottom right hand of the page.

The publisher summed it:

Out of the Blue shows children the magic of idioms – words that separately have one meaning, but together take on something entirely different. Children are curious about words, especially phrases that make them laugh (“Tickled Pink”), sound silly (“Shrinking Violet”) or trigger images that tickle a child’s sense of the absurd (“A Red Letter Day”). Out of the Blue uses outlandish illustrations of what the words describe literally.

The reader will not be fooled, the book is page after colorful page of largely American idioms. Except for the final pages, the text is but a series of phrases and blithely concealed prompts. And yes, the pictures are often silly, yet irresistible, because they are so cute. I found myself flipping back and forth in the 66-page manuscript to see various images again and again.

I wrote that the book says the images are silly. I found them whimsical, lightly fanciful in the most amazing ways. The artist tends to use solid colors, no shades or tones, which makes the drawings gain a certain vibrancy. For example, the expression “white elephant” is portrayed in one of the stark brilliance – a slight boy in a navy blue t-shirt and pants with a brown cape and black mask stands faced with an elephant under a white sheet carrying an pumpkin-striped, jack-o-lantern, Halloween container.

If that effort to describe what happens left you blank. Check out the artist’s description of how the artwork is done. Yet some matters remain a mystery.

I believe the prompt states, “Something unusual or even special, but useless to you is a white elephant.” I say that because the e-book pages make it hard to be sure. I do not understand why the author chose that touch. The tiny upside-down sentences work better in a printed copy, but in a fixed medium such as a digital book, they are a loss. The other thing I wanted to see was a brief description of how the phrases were derived. The author did that with “green with envy” at the end of the manuscript, but I wanted something similar for each phrase. Those are the only down-sides (no pun intended) to this book.

I recommend Out of the Blue to any parent, grandparent, teacher, preacher, or avid reader, who wants to entertain a child while doing an exploration of the complicated nature of American English. The publisher offers some thoughts on how to use the book on the VanitaBooks. Even more, we need texts like this to develop reading and language skills which studies show continue to lag in this country. Every kid needs to know that idioms ain’t idiotic.

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VGwrites

I am a storyteller, author, editor, blogger, and retired university professor of Creative Writing. Now in Central Florida, I still teach every now and then, but write most of the time. Most recently, I poetry was featured in Mo Joe The Anthology. My last book, 10 Stories Down, a poetry collection published in September 2011, is inspired by several long-term stays in Beijing. Life and Other Things I Know: Poems, Essays and Short Stories (Elephant Eye Press, 1999), was the first. Throughout the years, the list expanded to include: African American Children's Stories: A Treasury of Tradition and Pride, Grandma Loves You: My First Treasury, African American Stories: My First Treasury, Like A Dry Land: A Soul's Journey through the Middle East and contributions to Take Two, They're Small, an anthology of poems, memoir, essay and fiction on food. My poetry, fiction and essays have also appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Washington Living, Upstate New Yorker, The Southern Quarterly, Reporter Magazine, Drylongso, Fyah, MentalSatin, Pinnacle Hill Review, Invisible Universe, Bridges, Ishmael Reed's Konch Magazine, New Verse News, and UpandComing Magazine.

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