Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 9, 2017

He Heeded His Heart

It seems a recurring theme permeates picture book biographies.  It is a theme which serves to inspire anyone who reads or listens to these titles being read to them.  The people being showcased in these books, who have left a lasting mark on human history, pursue their heart's desire.  They never, never, ever give up.  Regardless of advice given, they stay true to their dreams.  They believe in their capabilities.  For this reason our world is better for them having lived their lives as they did.

It does not matter when the creative spark finds a way into their heart.  For some it ignites when they are older.  For others it flickers into existence when they are children.  Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 5, 2017) written by Michael Mahin with illustrations by Evan Turk lifts up the life of a musical legend.

was never good at doing what he was told.

McKinley lost his mama when he was very young but she and his Grandma Della could not keep that child out of the mud.  For some children it's not enough to be close to the earth, they like to be in it and feel it on their bodies.  It's as if they want Mother Nature's rhythm to be their rhythm.  Grandma Della finally gave him the name Muddy and it stuck.

Muddy loved music; the music sung out loud in church and the blues heard at gatherings.  Grandma Della was not a fan.  She believed music and blues music was a poor way to make a living.  Muddy went ahead and made instruments with whatever he could find.  He played.  She danced.

One night Muddy learned a new sound from blues musician Son House.  He stored it his mind's repertoire.  When he wasn't working in the cotton fields as a sharecropper, he was strumming on his guitar.  Then one day he traded those cotton fields in Mississippi for the city of Chicago, Illinois.

Although the blues melodies were being played already, no one played them like Muddy.  People loved his style.  Two possible records deals did not work in Muddy's favor but Leonard Chess, record producer, wanted to give Muddy a chance.  Muddy did not want to do it Leonard's way so Leonard agreed to do it Muddy's way.  It worked.  It worked in a big way.

You have to admit reading the words of Michael Mahin are like listening to Muddy Waters music; he's really captured the beat of his blues.  Each series of sentences mirrors a rhythmic tune.  His use of descriptive adjectives and verbs is exemplary.  Words in italics read like song lyrics and repeat during the narrative.  Frequently we are reminded Muddy

was never good at doing what he was told.

This phrase ties the verses of Muddy's life together, showing us persistence pays.  Here are two sample passages.

The clack-a-track, steam-blur
of an Illinois Central train
rocketed Muddy and his guitar
into the bustle and buzz
of Chicago's South Side.

Chicago was plugged in,
turned on, and turned up.
And so was its music.
Records with electrified guitar
and jazzy horns were making the blues
jump all over town.

One look at the matching dust jacket and book case will have you dancing.  The lines and color choices by illustrator Evan Turk reach out and wrap around readers.  They literally vibrate.  On the left front we see representations from where Muddy came and then on the right where he resided to make his music.  To the left, on the back, Evan Turk has fashioned a large record with one of Michael Mahin's sentences running around the edge.  The record is placed on a blue (with a hint of purple) background with orange accents.

The opening and closing endpapers are a rich chocolate brown.  The first page holds the word Muddy on black with muted golden zig-zags on the top and bottom.  A page turn takes us to a two-page image for the title.  A large river flows through the Mississippi landscape replete with cotton fields.  A small cabin is tucked in the lower left-hand corner.  The verso and dedication pages show two perspectives of cotton, as if we are about to pick it and away in a field.

You have to marvel at all the two page (and several single-page) illustrations created by Evan Turk.  Each one rendered in

watercolor, oil pastel, china marker, printing ink, and newspaper collage 

is a study in perspective, bringing us very close to certain elements with others farther away, a more distant view.  They are full of the hardship felt by Muddy, the difficulties he worked around and through and the glory of triumph.  Large areas of color within these pictures leave a place for the text.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Muddy arrives in Chicago.  On the left he stands near a street light with his guitar on this back and a suitcase held in his left hand   In front of him a taxi rushes by on a city street.  Newspaper clipping are blended with colors and shapes to indict the hustle of life in Chicago.  People are walking on the sidewalks, some more in the distance and others, like on the right, a couple, close to the reader.

The first thing you will do after reading Muddy:  The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters written by Michael Mahin with illustrations by Evan Turk is seek out his music.  (I recommend you read it again with a song playing in the background.)  Despite obstacle after obstacle, Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) succeeded on a grand scale.  Reading this book makes you stop and think about what you want most.  Then it challenges you to make the dreams you hold in your heart a reality.  This book needs to be on every professional and personal bookshelf.

To learn more about Michael Mahin and Evan Turk and their other work, please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites.  Michael Mahin has a post, On Racism, On Multiculturalism, and My Book Muddy:  The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters you will want to read.  Evan Turk maintains a blog here.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images.  Both Michael Mahin and Evan Turk join teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner at All The Wonders, Episode 388.  The work of Evan Turk is highlighted by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, here and about this book, specifically, here.  Evan is interviewed at Mile High Reading by Dylan Teut, director of Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival and at Deborah Kalb's website.  Muddy:  The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters has received a Parent's Choice Gold Award and was named one of The New York Times The Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2017.  Please enjoy the book trailer.

Please talk a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by bloggers this week participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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