Peach & Blue is a rare book. Depending on your viewpoint, it’s a love story, a tale of friendship, or a chronicle of death. When I worked at the bookstore, it was the centre piece of my Valentine’s Day display. And no, I wasn’t being ironic. This book is not about death. It is one of the most romantic stories you will ever run across in the children’s book section of your local library or bookstore.
Peach & Blue is the story of a blue-bellied frog and a peach. Blue is an adventurous, but aimless frog. Peach is a restless soul who longs to ‘feel grass’ and experience the world beyond her branch. Though she can turn her round and lovely face to the sun, she is tethered to a tree and a life that bores her. Peach dreams of escape.
The paintings in Peach & Blue are by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, a married couple who have collaborated on a number of picture books. Colour saturates each page. Warm blues and greens of the pond are complimented by the muted orange and yellow of Peach, her expression softly diffuse, blushed with red.
With the help of his brothers and sisters, Blue plucks Peach from her branch. Safely ensconced in a moveable bowl made from twigs and mud, Peach contemplates her new situation. “What do you see?” he asks, and the world unfolds through her eyes in new and captivating ways to the increasingly smitten frog.
But of course, all is not perfect. Without hydration from the tree, Peach begins to languish. Blue’s solution is the most beautiful painting in the book. He reaches across the pond and dips a lily cup into the water, gently tipping it over Peach to refresh her. The moonlight illuminates the delicately veined flesh of the lily plant and shimmers along the ripples in the water. It is quite simply, gorgeous.
The image of Blue stretching out his froggy arm to get a drink for his lovely Peach never fails to move me. I have dreams of reproducing it as a stone fountain for my garden. Not that I have a garden. But if I did have a garden, and the financial means to commission a stonemason, I would eschew the typical water feature in favour of this scene. Who needs fat cherubs spewing water when you can have a frog and a peach reaching out to one another in such an achingly romantic way?
The subtle penetration of light through the lily leaf echoes back to another book by Johnson and Fancher, The Salamander Room (Alfred A Knopf, 1991). Lovely images abound, but the illustration that elevates the book to a higher plain, and into my collection, is the picture of the salamander looking out a window. His body is so delicately translucent the light passes through his skin, changing its colour from a burnt orange to a pale yellow.
Damn! Johnson and Fancher have a way with light. And amphibians. And fruit.
So what about that other viewpoint? Many years ago when I showed Peach & Blue to a colleague, she said, “It’s about death.” “No,” I responded, “It’s about love.” Yes, Peach is somewhat compromised having been plucked from the tree, but the focus of this story is her relationship with Blue, not her imminent ascent to the great cobbler in the sky. All our days are numbered. Better to spend it with a blue-bellied frog who opens your world to possibility than a tree that obscures your view.
Peach & Blue by Sarah Kilborne, illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Published by Alfred A Knopf 1994 ISBN: 0679839291 (hardcover)
See also: Cat, You Better Come Home/Garrison Keillor (Viking, 1995), The Boy On Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr Seuss/Kathleen Krull (Random House, 2004)