A train journey in Romare Bearden’s childhood, inspired by one of his collage paintings
Harvey presents an imagined first-person narrative in the form of a blues poem by master collage artist Bearden.
Romare muses from his New York studio, conjuring his train journey as a 3-year-old with his parents, from North Carolina to Harlem during the Great Migration from the south to the north. In a note, Harvey comments that Bearden drew analogies between his artistic process and jazz improvisation, which fuels her approach. Drawing inspiration from the artist's collage Watching the Good Trains Go By (reproduced within), 14 of Harvey's 21 verses focus on the trip, from tearful goodbyes with great-grandparents to the onomatopoeia of the train's sounds and the chance sights rolling by. "I spy a woman by a washtub, stirring, staring up at me. / I wonder what she's thinking, staring up at me. / Maybe that tomorrow so far away I'll be." The talented Zunon's pictures intriguingly combine realistic faces, stylized landscapes and photo-collage that pays homage to Bearden's art. Facial images are potentially a bit confusing: The adult Bearden could be mistaken for a teenager, while the preschooler making his first train trip seems more circumspect than a 3-year-old might be.
The interplay of poetic and visual metaphor makes for a striking presentation; adults who can appreciate and chant the bluesy poem as well as sensitively interpret the pictures together with children are the ideal collaborators in savoring this intriguing work. (author's note, source notes, resources) (Picture book. 5-8)
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