Book Review: Blueberries for Sal

Rating: ★★★★★

Sal and her mother set out for Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries for the winter, Mother with her large tin pail and Sal with her small one.  Meanwhile, Mother Bear and her cub start up the other side of Blueberry Hill to eat blueberries for the winter.  During the course of picking and eating blueberries, the  two youngsters each wander off to the opposite side of the hill, and meet each other’s mothers.  Each mother is “old enough to be shy” of the child she meets, and cautiously withdraws to go in search of her own child.  Reunited, each party returns down their own side of Blueberry Hill, the people with a pail full of berries, the bears having eaten themselves full of berries for winter.

The charm of this encounter comes from its winsome portrayal of Sal as a likable, easily-distracted child, and the subtle anthropomorphism of the bears, which are exciting but not threatening.  Each step of the story proceeds in two parts as first the humans, then the bears make a move: setting out, beginning to gather berries, wandering away, searching for Mother, and so on.  The wording, pacing, and artwork design are carefully laid out to unfold the plot in a pleasingly predictable yet suspenseful way.  The story is illustrated in black-and-white ink drawings, as many books of that era are, and McCloskey’s ink drawings are rendered with his characteristically gifted style, capturing the movements as well as the appearance of the people and animals.

Meeting a bear in the outdoors is a deliciously danger-filled adventure to read about, yet the story is not fearful, primarily because of the parallels drawn between the mothers and their children.  Sal’s relationship with her mother is one of great security, and the book ends with a warm scene of the two of them in their 1940s kitchen, canning blueberries with Sal “helping.”

This is a wonderful story for introducing blueberries or blueberry season, or for preparing to spend time in an unfamiliar outdoor environment.  More importantly, it’s simply an entertaining story which underscores the security of parental love and care for their children.

Grandpa Mateo and Christopher (Age 3) Summer 2007

Grandpa Mateo and Christopher (Age 3) Summer 2007

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Publication Information: McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal. Viking Press. 1948. ISBN: 0670175919.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 04-08, Amblesideonline, Book Tree, Caldecott Honor, Honey For a Child's Heart, Read-Aloud Handbook, World Books That Show, World Nifty 50
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Posted on July 13, 2009

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