Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers

Summary: Gr. 5-8. The blues' deceptively simple rhyme scheme tracks the deeper feelings of lives that have been bruised. In this picture book for older readers, Myers offers blues-inspired verse that touches on the black-and-blue moments of individual lives. His son Christopher's images, which illustrate the call-and-response text, alternate between high spirited and haunting. Myers begins with a very necessary introduction to the history of the blues that includes an explanation of the rhyme scheme. Still, the level of sophistication necessary for kids to get into the book is considerable: "Strange fruit hanging, high in the big oak tree / Strange fruit hanging high in the big oak tree / You can see what it did to Willie, / and you see what it did to me." Myers' original verse is unsettling if young people know the reference from the Billie Holiday song, but unclear if they don't ("strange fruit" is defined in the glossary). The accompanying illustration, though it's one of the less inspired ones, helps clarify things--a boy walks in a crowd carrying a sign saying, "yesterday a man was lynched." But there's no cohesion between the spreads, and the next one features a blues singer at a mike: "The thrill is gone, but love is still in my heart . . . I can feel you in the music and it's tearing me apart." Much of Myers' poetry here is terrific, by turn, sweet, sharp, ironic, but it's the memorable collage artwork, executed in the bluest of blue ink and brown paper, that will draw readers first. Once inside the book, some children will immediately hear the songs the poetry sings; others will have to listen more closely. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Unique Features: This text blends nicely into a poetry or music study in the upper grade classrooms. A particularly complex nonfiction picture book, this text could be examined by higher level readers. The style of language in this "blues" book can compare nicely to Myer's Jazz writing style.


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