A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just When I Thought I'd Seen It All...

I found The Blue Bead by Kate Boyan.

If you know kid’s books, you know that the illustrations can be amazing. Artistry, creativity, innovation, boldness, intricacy, subtlety – it’s all there.

Mediums of expression? How about paint (all kinds), ink, markers, crayons, photographs, collage, cut paper, torn paper, folded paper, fabric, embroidery, wood cuts, linoleum block prints, pressed leaves, modeled clay, computer-generated graphics, and combinations of all the above. (Did I miss anything? Probably.)

Until a few weeks ago, however, I’d never seen this: a book that uses beadwork for the illustrations.

Let me repeat that: each picture on every page is comprised entirely of beads. Take a look:

The author-illustrator, Kate Boyan, is a beader who lives in Homer, Alaska. As someone who has embroidered and done just a very little beadwork, I can only marvel at the work that went into this project. According to her website ( ) each of the 25 illustrations took more than 200 hours (or longer) to create. All together, Boyan spent ten years making The Blue Bead.

But the artwork here is not about impressing us; it serves the story, as all good picture-book art should. The medium is completely appropriate to the tale, which is about, as the title says, a blue bead. Boyan explains in her prologue, “It is the story of an 18th Century Bohemian, blue glass trade bead that survives its journey into modern day Alaska.” Readers travel through time, places, and history until the bead reaches the hands of a modern-day girl, beading a gift for her grandmother’s potlatch birthday celebration.

Raven steals the blue bead.
Has anyone else seen beadwork as illustration in children’s books? I’d love to hear about it!


  1. I purchased this book by Kate (who is an amazing bead artist!!) and my grandkids loved it (they are 11 & 7). Even my grandson (youngest) wanted me to read it twice! I read it to the kids before bed on our last overnight visit. The beadwork photo's are wonderful as is the story!

  2. I'm glad to hear that your grandkids responded so well to the story. When I was a kid I was fascinated by a lot of the old "stuff" around my grandparents' houses. I still have the same fascination, only stronger, now that I know more about history in general -- and the unvarnished versions of a few family stories! I love the way the bead in this story traces moments in time that were interesting and signficant, and then brings it all back around to the present.