Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk!: Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal by Moderator Dr. Linda Tate

I’ve spent most of my career studying and teaching literature, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to comment on children’s literature. I am honored to do so – and thrilled to start with Robert McCloskey’s 1948 classic, Blueberries for Sal. The book was awarded the Caldecott Honor in 1949. McCloskey is also the author of Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, and six other children’s books.
Based on McCloskey’s wife, Margaret, and daughter, Sarah, Blueberries for Sal joins two of my other favorite Maine novels – E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs. Who doesn’t love a Maine summer, and who doesn’t revel in the lush taste of ripe blueberries? As the School Library Journal review said, the book is full of “all the color and flavor of the sea and pine-covered Maine countryside.”

What heaven to be on Blueberry Hill, where Sal and her mother find themselves picking berries to can for the winter. (Well, Sal picks the blueberries and eats them now . . . planning for winter isn’t foremost on this little girl’s mind!)

Also on Blueberry Hill are Little Bear and his mother, eating as many blueberries as they can, also preparing for winter. And in the mix-up that results as the two little ones get separated from their mothers, they encounter a crow family and a partridge family also eating their fill of blueberries. Seems everyone’s gorging on the luscious Maine berries, each family preparing for winter in its own way.

The natural world is inviting to these humans – a place where Sal and her mother at home, where they find nourishment, Sal blissfully eating berries in a clump of bushes. But it is also a place that demands respect: Sal’s mother has a healthy fear of bears, even small ones like Little Bear. McCloskey’s narrative is brisk, friendly, funny, and easy to follow – preschool children will enjoy hearing the story of Sal and Little Bear. Blue-black line drawings (blueberry stained?) bring thestory to life, making it easy for young readers to imagine the summer world of Maine.

Mothers and their children working together to prepare for the long, cold winter ahead, taking sustenance from the bounty of the earth . . . a perfect story to share with young ones! Read Blueberries for Sal to your favorite preschooler – and see if you don't find yourself drooling for blueberries and for a summer on the coast of Maine.

Tell us your thoughts about Blueberries for Sal!


Karen said...

I love the way Sal picking blueberries and in the book One Morning in Maine is so enchanting that it makes one want to be just like Sal. She has always represented my eternal childhood, my unending inquisitiveness, my sheer joy of summer in New England and the sense of wonder as Sal (or is it me?) go clamming with my dad...McCloskey's One Morning in Maine is really all about the sense of place, the intimacy of family experiences, and the gifts that the natural world offers up to make our childhood exquisitely memorable.

Rick Chamberlin said...

I did not discover McClosky's book until I was a young father. What a joy it was to read Blueberries for Sal to my daughter and son - and have them read it to me. The illustrations evoked my own blueberry and bear days in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My children are in their teens now but I've tucked BFS away for any future cubs that might come along.

linda said...

As I expected, it sounds like Blueberries for Sal is a much beloved book. I love how Karen and Rick both connect to their own childhoods (clamming in New England, picking blueberries on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

I love also the book drew Rick and his children together -- especially the fact that the kids read the book to *him.*

Does Blueberries for Sal stir up any memories for other readers?

Margaret said...

Blueberries for Sal seems the perfect lesson in how wildlife and people can share the land and harvest its fruit together. There's a lot of playfulness up there on the mountain but really deep down a deep respect for the rights of both bear and humans to simply share. I love that lesson and love the way children eevrywhere have experienced that harmony since the book was published in 1949.

Jennifer Emmett said...

I love how Blueberries for Sal inspires young kids to think of nature adventures as so accessible. Something simple--picking blueberries--becomes this beautifully paralleled tall tale bear encounter, presented so skillfully to convey the mindset of parent & child, human & bear. Kids who pick blueberries in hopes of mimicking Sal hopefully won't encounter bears, but having in their imaginations the story of it will make their own nature adventures full of possibility!

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