From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up-"Blues- what you mean to me?/-Are you my pain and misery,/or my sweet, sweet company?" The opening verse of this latest father/son collaboration probes the very essence of a form-and a feeling; it asks the question that anyone who has sought solace in music can relate to. The pair's first composition wandered through a Harlem collage (Scholastic, 1997), depicting "-a call, a song- the mood indigo- a language of darkness-." This new duet is the blues: verbally and visually, it explores the idiom while exemplifying it. A call and response accompanies each painting. The poetry is given a variety of voices by the ever-changing cast and settings: three figures in a horse-drawn cart on a lonely road; two children sitting on a curb-one crying, the other comforting; workers in a chain gang; a brother and sister sharing a bed, head to toe. The tightly controlled, yet endlessly surprising palette consists of blue (ink), white (paint), and brown (paper bags). Many of the bodies and backgrounds are literally blue, with white highlights. This chilling effect is tempered by the warm texture of the brown bags. As the journey progresses, the lyrics and art look at loss through the lenses of slavery, poverty, lynching, love spurned, fear of dying-and of living. An author's note provides a lucid description of the history, elements, and importance of the blues. Symbolism is explored in a glossary. Artist and author push the idiom-and the picture book-to new dimensions. Their song will slide through readers' ears and settle into their souls.Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5-8. The blues' deceptively simple rhyme scheme tracks the deeper feelings of lives that have been bruised. In this picture book for older readers, Myers offers blues-inspired verse that touches on the black-and-blue moments of individual lives. His son Christopher's images, which illustrate the call-and-response text, alternate between high spirited and haunting. Myers begins with a very necessary introduction to the history of the blues that includes an explanation of the rhyme scheme. Still, the level of sophistication necessary for kids to get into the book is considerable: "Strange fruit hanging, high in the big oak tree / Strange fruit hanging high in the big oak tree / You can see what it did to Willie, / and you see what it did to me." Myers' original verse is unsettling if young people know the reference from the Billie Holiday song, but unclear if they don't ("strange fruit" is defined in the glossary). The accompanying illustration, though it's one of the less inspired ones, helps clarify things--a boy walks in a crowd carrying a sign saying, "yesterday a man was lynched." But there's no cohesion between the spreads, and the next one features a blues singer at a mike: "The thrill is gone, but love is still in my heart . . . I can feel you in the music and it's tearing me apart." Much of Myers' poetry here is terrific, by turn, sweet, sharp, ironic, but it's the memorable collage artwork, executed in the bluest of blue ink and brown paper, that will draw readers first. Once inside the book, some children will immediately hear the songs the poetry sings; others will have to listen more closely. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved