My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey


A train journey in Romare Bearden’s childhood, inspired by one of his collage paintings

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A train journey in Romare Bearden’s childhood, inspired by one of his collage paintings

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Harvey weaves collage artist Bearden's recollections of his North Carolina childhood into a first-person memoir, casting the lines as blues lyrics, which gives the book a slow, rocking rhythm. Newcomer Zunon's illustrations combine folk-style portraits of Bearden's family with flat collage elements as Harvey recounts the Bearden family's move north during the Great Migration. For the first time, the Beardens became passengers on the trains that Romare and his great-grandfather had watched together—trains that would later figure into his collages. It's a soft-spoken exploration of the ways in which experience is transformed into art. Ages 5–8 (Sept.)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—In a first-person narrative that incorporates some of artist Romare Bearden's phrases and ideas, and using his famous painting "Watching the Good Trains Go By" as her inspiration, Jeanne Walker Harvey gives voice to the history and experiences that inspired his famous collages. Born in North Carolina, Bearden and his family moved to Harlem in 1914 to escape discriminatory Jim Crow Laws and attitudes. In his collages, which he called paintings and "visual jazz," he analyzed the social and political issues of his time and also related his personal story as well as the daily life of African Americans in both the North and South. Kevin R. Free reads Harvey's fictionalized account (Marshall Cavendish, 2011) of the artist's life with a cadence that turns the rhyming lines into a blues song, its rhythm rising and falling and bouncing along, sometimes singing the train whistles and engines like a jazz tune. The audio version perfectly accompanies Elizabeth Zunon's Bearden-like collage illustrations and text that changes size and color for emphasis. The author's note, which details the life and describes the work of Bearden, is included, but source notes from the book are not. While this fictionalized biography provides an excellent introduction to the Great Migration North and the Harlem Renaissance, it is also a work of art in words and pictures.—MaryAnn Karre, Horace Mann and Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools, Binghamton, NY
Kirkus Reviews

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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761458104
  • Publisher: Amazon Childrens Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 715,716
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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