If you’re like me, you don’t really think about the color blue that much (unless you are eating a grocery store cupcake and your mouth is dyed blue for hours). However, I just read a book that will make me never look at it the same way again. “Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and illustrated by Daniel Minter is about the complicated and sometimes brutal history of this color. The illustrations and words flow beautifully, walking readers through how the various hues came to be.
For most of human history, blue dye was only for the elite as it was difficult to obtain. Before the discovery of the indigo plant, it could only be harvested through crushing lapis lazuli rocks and certain shellfish. It was so precious and valuable that people used it as money, and sometimes it was even used to buy people. Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond doesn’t shy away from these and other ugly aspects of the indigo plant’s past. She writes about the African captives that were enslaved to harvest it and how some farmers were even coerced into growing indigo instead of food.
Despite this tumultuous past, the book ends on a hopeful note. She writes about how blue can sometimes be a sanctuary and how we use blue in our language, like when we are sad and we say that we feel “blue,” or when something extraordinary happens and we say it was “out of the blue.” There are also some amazing author notes with additional facts and sources.
And thanks to Adolf von Baeyer, who won a Nobel prize for creating a chemical blue in 1905, so we can now ALL have blue clothing, blue hair and blue cupcakes!