This handsomely designed volume by the father-and-son creators of Harlem succeeds as an introduction to the blues genre but lacks a story line to unify the disparate verses. The author begins with a history of the blues, tracing its roots to Africa and describing its metamorphosis in America, as freed captives began to explore lyrics fully and white musicians became influenced by the musical form. He explains that the first two lines represent a call, and the third is the response. In one of the most effective spreads, Walter Dean Myers subtly alters the repetition of the call to chilling effect: "My landlord's cold, cold as a death row shave/ My landlord's so cold, cold as a death row shave/ Charged fifty cents for a washtub, three dollars for my grave." Opposite, Christopher Myers uses blue ink and white paint on brown bags to depict two boys looking out one side of a window, one peering fearfully around the corner, the other holding up his hand, perhaps in protection, perhaps in an attempt to escape. The sides of the window and a collage screen create a sense of imprisonment. But a few juxtapositions are jarring, such as a portrait of a boy reading with a stately, elderly woman appearing over his shoulder, while the verse seems to indicate a romantic sentiment ("I hollered to my woman, she was across the way/ I said I loved her truly, she said,/ `It got to be that way' "). All ages. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
There is some teen appeal in the pictures of this book of the blues. It is well-rounded, so it could be for the whole family, but it points mainly to the males of the family. It shows life from bad to worse and somewhat good, as the blues can do. The repetitive phrases bring out the importance of the words. The feelings of the words shoot through me as the sense of growing from a boy to a man can do. The pictures show a mood or feeling to describe the well-written words. The use of the basic colors of blues and browns catches the eye and captures the mood for teens who like the blues or fathers who talk to their sons about the blues. Glossary. Illus. Chronology. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M J S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Holiday House, 48p,
Kevin Anderson, Teen Reviewer
A young man sits strumming a guitar on the left-hand page while on the right the author presents an explanation of the birth and development of "a truly American music, the blues." This book successfully presents "the lyrics as a poetry form." The astounding artwork was created using blue ink, white paint and brown paper bags. Each illustration strikes a strong emotional chord, as one reads, or sings, the words in the call and response. Walter Dean Myers sets the stage perfectly with the first lyrics, "blues, blues, blues,/ blues, what you mean to me?/ Blues, blues, blues,/ blues, what you mean to me?/ Are you my pain and misery,/ or my sweet company?" Whether the topic of the song is a broad social issue such as slavery, or the more intimate loss of love, the reader feels the impact. The color blue with its many hues has been used most effectively to highlight a person or an object on the page. Christopher Myers has created wonderful facial expressions, incredible body language and a sense of movement on these pages, which enhance the reader's sensibilities of the poetry. This father-son team has truly created a sense of the blues in a picture book format. But don't let the format fool you. The depth of the African American experience is here. Every time I read this and look at the illustrations I see and feel something new. Extraordinary! A Time Line presents important names as well as dates, and a Blues Glossary adds important details for a deeper understanding of the lyrics presented. 2003, Holiday House,
Gr 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 Allen's 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 couldn't hear no more/ O Lord, O Lord/ Ain't it hard when your brother's crying/ And you don't 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 Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A powerful union of text and image transmutes itself into a work of art-and it explains what the blues is, besides. Walter Dean Myers takes fragments of blues songs and creates an arc of poetry with them. His son, Christopher, using only brown paper, blue ink, and white paint, creates a visual counterpoint to the words that sometimes reflects them and other times goes to a different but related place. In his one-page introduction, the elder Myers describes the blues as coming from the encounter between the five-tone scale and the call-and-response singing of African music, and the American idiom. This volume comes as close as you can in print to reproducing the feeling of the blues, even as Chris Raschka did for Bird in Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (1992), and does it in a way that small children can grasp. "Hollered to my woman, / she was across the way" shows a boy and his grandmother hovering over an open book; "Misery loves company, / blues can live alone" shows two boys sitting on a curb, one turns from the other. "If you see a dollar, tell it my full name" faces a portrait of a young man against a wrought iron fence. He holds his shoe up to his face and looks steadily through the hole in its sole to gaze at the viewer. Myers fils wields his limited palette in extraordinary ways: figures are blue and blue-black and brown, they have a sculptural presence against dark or light backgrounds, and their postures respond strongly to the words. "Blues, what you mean to me? / Are you my pain and misery, / or my sweet, sweet company?" Children will see both replies in the pictures and in the sweet dark rhythm of the words. (introduction, time line, glossary) (Picture book. 6-11)