Seeing with Our Eyes Closed

h1 September 27th, 2019 by jules


I’ve some spreads today from Mac Barnett’s Just Because (Candlewick, September 2019), illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Isabelle also shares some early sketches from this book, describing what she shares here today as a “bit of a melting pot” and adding that she tried many different approaches before starting the final illustrations for the book.

I love that the phrase that is the title of this book never actually appears in the book. Any child anywhere that communicates their curiosity about the world in the form of “why?” queries (“but why?” is the repeated refrain of any three- or four-year-old) has likely heard “just because” muttered by an adult. In this book, a young girl, tucked into bed at night, has a series of “why?” questions for her father. I don’t know that she’s even necessarily delaying bedtime; she just has a lot of questions swirling around in her brain. (I mean, check out that face above. The gears are turning.)



Instead of dismissing her questions with “just because,” her father gives her a string of excessively imaginative answers. Why, the ocean is blue, because: “Every night, when you go to sleep, the fish take out guitars. They sing sad songs and cry blue tears.” The girl is so insistently inquisitive that she doesn’t even respond; she barrels ahead with her next question. (“What is the rain?”)

And here, bringing all these deeply, delightfully surreal (flying fish) and fanciful (dinosaurs carried by big balloons) responses to the page, is Isabelle Arsenault. Her gouache and watercolor illustrations — in subdued, velvelty shades of gray, rose, lavender, mustard, and robin’s-egg blue (with a touch of the vivid red you see on the cover — are eloquent and intricate. I’ll let the art below (I’ve got three final spreads from the book) speak for itself.

The girl’s father doesn’t even resort to “just because” for her final question, “Why do we have to sleep?” But his exquisite answer? I’ll leave you for you to discover yourself when you read this one.


Early Sketches and Paintings:









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Some Final Spreads:


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“To fetch new leaves for the trees.”
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“It is time to go to sleep.”
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JUST BECAUSE. Text copyright © 2019 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations above copyright © 2019 by Isabelle Arsenault. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Early sketches reproduced by permission of Isabelle Arsenault.

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