Meredith's Reviews > Little Blue and Little Yellow

Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
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In 2015, two days after taking office, the newly elected conservative mayor of Venice, Italy, banned this and 48 other picture books from city primary schools due to content that undermines the "traditional family." While other books on the list positively depict non-traditional families and non-traditional gender roles or openly discuss homosexuality and divorce, the reason behind objection to this book was unclear to me. What could possibly be so subversive about two primary colors combining to form a secondary color? Did the major dislike collage illustration? Is the color green offensive because of its association with tree-hugging liberals in the green party? Perhaps, this book was banned because art is considered frivolous and, thus, violates the Protestant work ethic. Or maybe, blue and yellow making green is offensive because it is a metaphor for sex, especially sinful premarital sex committed by these two young dots. They are also dating outside their own hues, thus polluting the colors to which they belong, which is a metaphor for illicit cross-ethnic/cultural relationships. To put an end to this wild conjecture, I decided to read this book for myself.

Leo Lionni's children's books often have a disturbing, and unexpected, depth to them, often introducing adult concepts that would otherwise take someone by surprise as s/he grew up. As a child, I was haunted by Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse and disturbed by Fish is Fish. This book is as multilayered as Lionni's other work. On the surface level, it's an art lesson using anthropomorphized blobs of color to illustrate secondary colors. On a deeper level, it's a metaphor for how individuals can become something entirely unrecognizable with paired with someone else.

Taken at face value, this is the story of two differently colored dots who accidentally combine to form one dot that is neither of their original colors. (I loved the description of how little blue and little yellow were so happy to see it other that they hugged and hugged until they were green. It is so sweet.) This doesn't bother them, and they have a fine time playing as a single entity until they return home where they discover that they are unrecognizable to both sets of parents. They are so distraught that they cry until their individual colors separate, and they are again their original separate colors. Their parents are so overjoyed to have their children back that they hug and partially combine. Now little blue and little yellow can play not only as themselves but also as little green.

On a metaphorical level, this story describes how two distinct individuals come together to become something entirely different from either of their original forms. The metaphor can be stripped to simple friendship. Young people, especially teenagers, hear a variation of, "I don't know who you are when you're with [so-and-so]" from their parents quite frequently. Parents like to blame "bad influence" friends for undesirable changes in a child that were perfectly voluntary but prompted by a particular friendship. This metaphor also applies to romantic relationships. As a teenager and an adult, it's sometime impossible to recognize a friend when s/he is part of a romantic couple. A marriage can do this in the best possible way: two people come together and each become someone better within their union. As an even further stretch, this can be a metaphor for homo sapiens and how our species adapts and changes through encounters with different practices and ideas and interactions between different cultural groups.

In my opinion, this book was banned as an overreaction to art concepts and friendship.
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Reading Progress

February 19, 2018 – Shelved
February 19, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
February 19, 2018 – Shelved as: childrens-picture-books
Started Reading
February 21, 2018 – Finished Reading

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