Roots and Blues: A Celebration

Overview

Through poems and poetic prose pieces, acclaimed children's author Arnold Adoff celebrates that uniquely American form of music called the blues. In his signature “shaped speech” style, he creates a narrative of moments and joyous music, from the drums of the ancestors, the red dirt of the plantations, the current of the mighty Mississippi, and the shackles, blood, and tears of slavery. Each chop of the ax is a beat, each lash of the whip fashions another line on the musical staff. But each sound also creates the...

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Overview

Through poems and poetic prose pieces, acclaimed children's author Arnold Adoff celebrates that uniquely American form of music called the blues. In his signature “shaped speech” style, he creates a narrative of moments and joyous music, from the drums of the ancestors, the red dirt of the plantations, the current of the mighty Mississippi, and the shackles, blood, and tears of slavery. Each chop of the ax is a beat, each lash of the whip fashions another line on the musical staff. But each sound also creates the chords and harmonies that preserve the ancestors and their stories, and sustain life, faith, and hope into our own times.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this visceral collaboration, Adoff and Christie honor the enduring legacy of blues music. Vibrant, haunting acrylic paintings portray crowded slave ships, chain gang labor, and the crackling energy of juke joints. Several poems titled "Listening" capture the sounds of the decades in which they're set (the "high-metal shuffle of chains between wrists") and mimic the rhythms and repetitions of the blues ("Singing vegetables for sale near Auction Square./ Silence under heavy snow one Kansas City winter./ Memphis waterfront noise and rush/ Saint Louis waterfront noise and rush"). This is a challenging, open-hearted collection with images and poems that bleed into one another, but also stand powerfully alone. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"This exquisite collection of poems and paintings celebrates the history and culture of blues music."—School Library Journal, starred review

"In this visceral collaboration, Adoff and Christie honor the enduring legacy of blues music . . .This is a challenging, open-hearted collection with images and poems that bleed into one another, but also stand powerfully alone."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"An incandescent, important work."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Christie provides arresting and soul-stirring paintings that echo the poems here and add texture and harmony there, but Adoff’s poems are themselves things to be savored visually as well as out loud."—Booklist, starred review

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This book is a beautiful, poignant look at the history of the blues, an American form of music created from the stories and experiences of African-Americans throughout their history in the United States. Through what Adoff calls the "shaped speech" style, the reader is presented with a narrative prose/poetry form that follows the history of the origins of this important musical form. The poetry-prose is, in and of itself, beautifully wrought; the addition of Christie's paintings, dramatic one- and two-page works that illustrate Adoff's words, make this work even more vibrant and human. Not only is history cited, but some of the specific singers of this musical style are highlighted: Ma Rainey, Robert Johnson, W. C. Handy, Muddy Waters, and Johnny Lee Turner. This is a beautiful book that should be in every upper elementary and middle school classroom, if not for the simply enjoyment of reading it, then to make students aware of the various approaches a poet or songwriter can take in sharing ideas. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—This exquisite collection of poems and paintings celebrates the history and culture of blues music. Adoff traces the horrific journey of slaves to America and the role that music played as a means of survival, of passing on "the ancestor words." Even as the lyrics describe harsh realities, the innate beauty of music made with sticks, spoons, or whatever was at hand speaks of an irrepressible hope: "Under the hot sun: the chop chop/hoe/measures out the beats of freedom." Christie's haunting acrylic images bring to life the drama and emotion of the music, as well as the dignity of his subjects. In the latter half of the book, Adoff introduces blues performers Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Son House, Ma Rainey, Robert Johnson, Johnny Lee Hooker, B. B. King, and Muddy Waters, stepping down on the "Chicago/train/station/platform/with a suitcase/of Mississippi River/with a suitcase/of Mississippi/Delta with a suitcase of Mississippi/dripping/on side/walk/s." As with Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers's Blues Journey (Holiday House, 2003), this splendid addition to American history units should resonate with a wide audience. Adoff comes full circle with this stirring poem: "And we have always sung about hearts and healing/broken pieces into new and beating creations when/eyes open to first light of morning sun shining/in my back door/shining/in my back door./Shining/shining:/Always."—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Adoff creates a moving meditation on the roots of American blues. The poet explores the profound relationship between the enslavement of Africans and the music born of that brutalization: "This New World music m o v e s with shackle sounds." Recurring metaphors flow through the 60 poems, riffing on trauma and triumph.Metal, for one: the clank of chains on ships and chain gangs; a hoe striking rock; the reverberating steel of guitar strings and piano wire. Blood signifies death but also "the / r i c h / red / c h i l d / b i r t h / c o l o r / o f / j o y." Spare, spondaic lines pulse, connecting the mundane (church, cooking) with the music's transcendence. Some poems center on specific performers. The poet wryly considers Robert Johnson's alleged bargain with the devil: "We can still tell that story and smile as we sing his words. His soul is in his songs and his songs live deep on blue e a r t h." Christie's Expressionistic acrylics employ a palette of crimson, teal and brown, reserving grays for faces and hands, linking shackled slaves with sharecroppers, rocking grandmothers with juke-joint dancers. An incandescent, important work. (Poetry. 8 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547235547
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/3/2011
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 86
  • Sales rank: 1,397,099
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Arnold Adoff is the recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for the body of his work. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio. To learn more, please visit www.arnoldadoff.com .

R. Gregory Christie is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner and a Theodor Seuss Geisl Award recipient. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Please visit his website to learn more: www.gas-art.com .

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Invaluable, Eye-Opening Guide To Living, Breathing History

    "Chained/in rags in blood in dark death of daylight./To survive the passage across the ocean from/life to living hell to life in hell means/silent/singing/of old/songs./Behind the eyes/the fingers strum/homeland strings and memory of my history/remains as strong as steel./Always: this melody of words is journey home."

    This passage, from the poem entitled "Chained," perfectly encapsulates the essence of Roots And Blues. The striking new collection of poetry by Arnold Adoff, Roots And Blues honors the ever-evolving legacy of blues music in America, expounding on its painful roots, as well as charting its tortuous course through history.

    Highlighting everything from rhythmic interpretations of life to juke joints to the inimitable genius of Robert Johnson, Adoff paints a comprehensive picture of the cultural phenomenon of the blues - all through the skillful use of his signature style of shaped speech. Accompanied by the outstanding expressionistic offerings of artist R. Gregory Christie, Adoff's words literally leap off the page, reverberating throughout the mind of the reader - much the same way that the soulful chords of the blues have reverberated throughout the course of American history. A fascinating visual and audio treat, Roots And Blues is an invaluable, eye-opening guide to the living, breathing history not so easily captured in garden variety history textbooks. As such, it is all the more crucial to fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the African American experience. A bona fide instant classic, and a dynamic must-read.


    Wendy Paulson
    Apex Reviews

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