An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent.

DARK WAS THE NIGHT

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON'S JOURNEY TO THE STARS

When NASA scientists compiled a recording of sounds to send into space representing Earth and humanity, those sounds included thunder, crickets, classical pieces, and a short wordless song by musician “Blind Willie” Johnson.

Willie Johnson’s mother died while he was still a boy, and shortly thereafter he lost his sight. Now young Johnson’s light came from singing in the church choir and playing the guitar. He traveled to cities throughout Texas, where he sang and played for money. One day, an adult Johnson was given the opportunity to record an album of his songs. One of the songs was “Dark Was the Night,” a haunting yet hopeful tune marked only by Johnson’s humming and characteristic slide-guitar playing. The second-person narrative is brief but evocative. In the backmatter, Golio shares with readers that this song was chosen for the Golden Record placed on Voyager 1 in 1977 because “Johnson powerfully conveyed the sense of loneliness that all people feel—something very important to know about human beings and life on planet Earth.” Lewis’ illustrations have a soft, blurred effect to them, conveying both the bygone time and Johnson’s vision loss. They are washes of mostly blue and violet, with punches of bright yellow and gold. The author’s note also discusses the challenges of researching Johnson and provides a bit more information on Voyager 1. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 65% of actual size.)

An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3888-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments.

SUPERHEROES ARE EVERYWHERE

The junior senator from California introduces family and friends as everyday superheroes.

The endpapers are covered with cascades of, mostly, early childhood snapshots (“This is me contemplating the future”—caregivers of toddlers will recognize that abstracted look). In between, Harris introduces heroes in her life who have shaped her character: her mom and dad, whose superpowers were, respectively, to make her feel special and brave; an older neighbor known for her kindness; grandparents in India and Jamaica who “[stood] up for what’s right” (albeit in unspecified ways); other relatives and a teacher who opened her awareness to a wider world; and finally iconic figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley who “protected people by using the power of words and ideas” and whose examples inspired her to become a lawyer. “Heroes are…YOU!” she concludes, closing with a bulleted Hero Code and a timeline of her legal and political career that ends with her 2017 swearing-in as senator. In group scenes, some of the figures in the bright, simplistic digital illustrations have Asian features, some are in wheelchairs, nearly all are people of color. Almost all are smiling or grinning. Roe provides everyone identified as a role model with a cape and poses the author, who is seen at different ages wearing an identifying heart pin or decoration, next to each.

Self-serving to be sure but also chock-full of worthy values and sentiments. (Picture book/memoir. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984837-49-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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