Blueberries for Sal
by Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal
(A Caldecott Honor Award Winner for Best Illustrated Children's Literature)

Review by Carla Marie Boulianne

Ages 4 to 8

Do you remember plucking raspberries from your grandfather's bush? Can you recall the bemusement of watching your youngest child stuff strawberries in her mouth, staining clothes, and leaving nothing in the flat?

If your fondest family traditions include picking ripe, heirloom apples or succulent orchard peaches swarmed by bees, then you will love sharing Blueberries for Sal with your children. The type of fruit matters less than the precious memories.

Blueberries for Sal - Summary

Sal and her mother venture into the highlands to gather blueberries for winter canning. Like all young children confronted by a smorgasbord of fruit spread along the ground, Sal can't seem to fill her little tin pail past the point of "kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk."

Her mother offers gentle reminders and then sends her off to pick her own berries after Sal scoops a handful from mother's steadily filling bucket.

While Sal focuses on the fruits of her labor, popping each blueberry quickly into her mouth, another mother and daughter pair pick berries on Blueberry Hill. Mother bear reminds her cub to "eat lots of berries to grow big and fat" for the coming winter.

Little Bear's actions mimic Sal's as both children wander farther from their mothers in search of the next blueberry. As the children make their way back to their mothers, they become "all mixed up with each other among the blueberries on Blueberry Hill."

Don't worry, this is classic children's literature - no one gets mauled and everyone leaves intact.

For the sake of Little Sal and her readers, Little Bear's mother acts nothing like most sows separated by a human from a cub. Luckily, Mother Bear is sufficiently old enough to be shy of even little people like Sal and Sal's mother is old enough to be shy of even the littlest bear.

A few "Tremendous Mouthfuls" of blueberries later, both mothers reunite with their children. Each pair travels down an opposite side of Blueberry Hill, picking and eating their way home.

Blueberries for Sal - Tenderly Illustrated 

enhanced image from Robert McClosekey's Blueberries for Sal

Robert McCloskey's tender depictions of Little Sal resemble so many angelically androgynous preschoolers with less than angelic behavior. When looking at Sal, I see both my curly-headed son and my neighbor's tousle-haired daughter. McCloskey's images hold broad appeal for children of either gender. Her delightfully ambiguous name aids this purpose.

Robert McCloskey's black and white illustrations earned Blueberries for Sal the 1949 Caldecott Honor award; The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader won the medal that year. McCloskey's 20th century bestseller, Make Way for Ducklings (reviewed on this site), received the Caldecott Medal in the 1942 awards. McCloskey's illustrations for Time of Wonder merited a second Caldecott Medal in 1958.

Blueberries for Sal - A Personal Perspective

Sal's little tin cup recalls battered containers left by a weathered wooden post for pick-it-yourselfers in my favorite blueberry patch in Tumwater, Washington. With the plink of berries hitting perpetually emptying cans, those times of innocent childhood gluttony hold a special place in my heart.

Not only small children have trouble keeping berries from hungry, appreciative mouths. Adults are almost as adept as bears in taking Tremendous Mouthfuls. We ate to such excesses that the numbers on the scale were meaningless - we guiltily threw in a few extra dollars in the interest of the honor system.

I'm confused by one aspect of Robert McCloskey's illustrations in Blueberries for Sal. Help me, dear reader, in resolving this conundrum. Sal's blueberries grow close to the ground. Where I live in the Northwest, blueberry bushes are six to ten feet high. Is Little Sal eating some low-lying Maine variety? My latent naturalist needs to know.

Webmaster's note: When I ran across wild blueberries in Northern Wisconsin as a child, the bushes were only about shin high. The pickings were pretty slim compared to what you describe, Carla!

Personal experience has taught me that current editions of Blueberries for Sal published exclusively by Scholastic don't have the stamina for eager readers' hands. Invest in a new or used edition of Blueberries for Sal from Amazon or a complete hardbound collection of Robert McCloskey's beautifully illustrated classic children's literature.

Title: Blueberries for Sal

Title: Make Way for McCloskey: A Robert McCloskey Treasury

Read more of Carla's reviews.

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