From School Library Journal
Grade 2-6–Father/son talents Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers teamed up to create a beautiful exploration of musical blues (Holiday House, 2003). The elder wrote and Christopher illustrated this deeply symbolic tale. A collection of blues verse follows an in-depth introduction that studies the historical roots and the musical elements of blues. The call-and-response text is brought alive by narrator Richard Allens enthusiastic rendition of the text, accompanied by simple blues instrumentation. Although this title will provide a wonderful introduction to blues music, it will be appreciated by those who have thoroughly studied the subject as well. The illustrations and text, sometimes paired with a hauntingly lonely harmonica, explore such subjects as poverty, lynching, slavery. and injustice. One verse reads: Heard the top deck groaning, yes, and the ocean roar/ Heard my brother crying till I couldnt hear no more/ O Lord, O Lord/ Aint it hard when your brothers crying/ And you dont hear him anymore? The subjects are serious and sensitive, but perhaps the first verse in this collection ultimately sums up the books intention: Blues, blues, blues/ Blues, what you mean to me?/ Are you my pain and misery/or my sweet, sweet company? Appropriate for group or individual listening, this title is best utilized with adult guidance to help with the blues glossary in the back of the book. An essential addition to school and public library collections.–Kirsten Martindale, formerly Menomonie Public Library, WI
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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
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