Young Dexter loves his mama, the smell of pork chops frying, and the sound of Johnny Cotton's clarinet. That music could make Dexter feel the "blue-down blues, and the deep-down shaking, slow-laughing feel-goods." Dexter's mama can't afford to buy him a clarinet, but Joe Cotton finds a way to help Dexter's dream come true. He gives Dexter his daddy's harmonica. The two of them play the blues in their own inimitable style. Play some blues background music, so children appreciate the music that Dexter loves.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Young Dexter loves "three things: his mama, the smell of pork chops frying, and the sound of Johnny Cotton's clarinet." The clarinet makes him feel " the blue-down blues, and the deep-down-shaking, slow-laughing feel goods." England's lyricism does much to cement the connection of emotion and music, explaining Dexter's desperate desire to own the clarinet his mother can't afford. No one understands like Johnny Cotton who gives the young boy a new dream and the Mississippi harp once played by his father. The harmonica finally turns him into a music maker, a player of his feelings and gives him a fourth thing to love.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Dexter loves three things: his mama, fried pork chops and Johnny Cotton's blues clarinet. How can one help children understand the blues? Linda England's story of a charming duo, eager young Dexter and accomplished Johnny Cotton, succinctly introduces and clarifies the mystery and beauty of the music of the soul. Sketchy, colorful illustrations help capture the feelings of the characters, their city and their music. Dexter's mom can't afford a clarinet, but Johnny Cotton keeps Dexter's dreams of music alive by passing along his own late father's silver "Mississippi harp." Now Dexter must learn to blow his own feelings through the harmonica into "Old Cotton Blues." Warm and touching, England's short picture book does an admirable job of introducing the blues to young readers.
Children's Literature - Donna T. Brumby
PreS-Gr 2--Dexter is bursting with music. As he listens to old Johnny Cotton play the blues on his clarinet, he knows he, too, wants to hold music in his hands. Dexter's mama tells him that there is money for rent and food, but not for a clarinet. Johnny's solution is to pass along the harmonica that belonged to his daddy; the one he used to blow "the sounds that made people weep and laugh." When Dexter first blows on it, the sounds are "mingle-mangle, mishamasha music." With practice, he's soon playing side by side with Johnny Cotton. While this is not such a new idea for a story, it is made special by the author's wonderful ability to describe how the music can make Dexter feel--"the blue-down blues, and the deep-down-shaking, slow-laughing feel-goods." There are moments that make readers ache, much like a really low-down blues can reach inside the soul. Flavin's softly colored illustrations, in gouache on tinted paper, capture the mood of the music and Dexter's ups and downs. When Johnny talks about his daddy, the man is shown in heaven, "playing blues for angels, making sunlight dance" or hovering over Johnny's shoulder, smiling his approval of the gift. Dexter is an African-American city boy; his story takes place on the stoops and sidewalks of his neighborhood. However, he could be any child whose need to make music is so heartfelt. A great read-aloud, this book could set the stage for a whole unit about how music moves us.--Karen Breen, New Visions for Public Schools, New York City
Dexter is a boy who loves three things: his mother, pork chops, and the "sound of Johnny Cotton's clarinet." That last one makes Dexter feel "the blue-down blues, and the deep-down- shaking, slow-laughing feel-goods." This city-dwelling boy, who has just one parent, has the strong desire to play, too; his dream of having a clarinet is not possible, but the kindly Johnny shares his time and encourages the boy with a story and a gifthis own father's harmonica. So Dexter comes to love a fourth thing: playing his harmonica with Johnny Cotton. England (3 Kids Dreamin', 1997) paces the story perfectly; there is no quick solution to his initial disappointment, but a more satisfying, realistic answer. Elements of the story are familiar, but this is a good tale of a talented boy with a one-track heart. The illustrations and design of the book are all of a piece: City doorways and interiors are stylized; the people are portrayed with skill, while Dexter, in particular, is animated and easy to identify with. A depiction of Johnny's deceased father, blowing on the harmonica in heaven, is an effective evocation of the joy of music, and the distinctively African faces of the angels are radiantly done. (Picture book. 4-7)