Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

"Both Sides Now"

For me it begins with How Much Is That Doggy In The Window and it's continued to this day.  It's like we have a library of songs in our minds.  We sing them.  We hum them.  We play them on a variety of devices over and over depending on our moods, moments and activities.  Each song by each artist is a milestone in our lives.

To this days whenever I gaze at clouds and the patterns they make, the words of Joni Mitchell from her song, Both Sides Now (Clouds), spring into my mind.  I can hear her singing it as clearly as if she is standing next to me.  This is the power of music and music makers.  Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell (Harper, HarperCollinsPublishers, February 25, 2020) written and illustrated by Selina Alko is an inspired walk into and through a life of making art.

Joni Mitchell painted with words.

These words were (and still are) her truth regardless of the emotions conveyed.  She grew up as Roberta Joan Anderson in a tiny community in Canada.  She was a child of nature and encouraged by her mother, but still she was more of a free spirit walled in by rules.  During her piano practicing, her own notes floated from her fingers.

At ten, Joni, caught polio.  Her confinement in a hospital was heartbreaking for a child which moved like the wind.  Her mother only visited once in six weeks.  She made a promise during her restricted activity.  This promise to herself became her life's work.

She started with painting, mentored by a teacher in junior high.  After saving on her own in high school she bought her first guitar.  Attending art school in college, opened a world for Joni to express herself in paint and words and music.  Meeting a folk singer from America, Chuck Mitchell, changed the course of Joni's life.  She ended up in Detroit, Michigan.

From Michigan, Joni moved to New York City.  Here Joni wrote and sang among heroes of the musical scene.  From New York City, Joni left for California.  She thrived among others with her same passion for song.  Joni sang what she saw.  Joni sang her feelings.  Missing Woodstock in 1969 resulted in Woodstock (1970).  Her fame grew.

One of her most popular albums, Blue, further cements her place as an artist able to portray her sincerest feelings through music.  Entering her mid-thirties, Joni altered her style, but not her commitment to truth.  It's in her truths so many see their own truths.

Threads woven into the tapestry of Joni Mitchell's life are expertly presented through the narrative penned by Selina Alko. Her words are as poetic and truthful as the lyrics of Joni Mitchell's songs.  Page by page we are walking alongside this distinctive musician as specific aspects of her life informed and heightened her talents.  Here is a passage.

It began in junior high.  The Andersons moved to
Saskatoon, where a teacher named Mr. Kratzmann
admired Joni's paintings.  He encouraged her to look
deep inside herself.

He said, "If you can paint with a brush, you can
paint with words."

Paintings turned to poems on the page. 

As soon as you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself drawn into a kaleidoscope of color, textures and artistic mediums.  The illustration of Joni playing in her room to the sights and sounds beneath her on the city street extends to the flap edge in a wide brush stroke of white.  On the other side of the spine, to the left, another swirl of white loops and circles at the top of the page over layers of vibrant colors.  There is a portion of a setting of the stage at Woodstock.  This design spans to the left edge, including information about Selina Alko, the jacket art and design.  On the front of the jacket, the text is varnished.

A sunny yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page an exquisite display of intermingled raindrop shapes points to the text.  A double-page picture provides a marvelous presentation for the verso and title pages.  Joni on the right is playing a piano as larger raindrop shapes, her musical words, fan out from right to left.  A butterfly is tucked into the shapes.  Shades of red, orange, blue and green are predominant.

Selina Alko rendered these illustrations using

acrylic paint, collage, found objects, and wild flowers.

All the pictures are double-age pictures.  They characterize a variety of aspects of Joni Mitchell's life and her songs.  They are replete with details and numerous elements. Text, lyrics, are tucked into the visuals.  Perspectives shift in reflection of the narrative.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations brings us close to the setting.  We are looking down on a younger Joni as she plays the piano.  Across the top of the page is the keyboard.  Her hands are on the keys as she plays her own melody.  Flowing from her head, like strands of hair, on the left and right are wide ribbons of textured paper, some with ledger lines.  It is a bold, stunning portrait.

For use in a biographical or musical themed unit, for those interested in Joni Mitchell and her music or for those who've never met her or her music previously, this book, Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell written and illustrated by Selina Alko is outstanding.  Within a two-page Author's Note Selina Alko reveals her introduction to the music of Joni Mitchell and what it means to her.  This is followed with a Discography and Bibliography.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Selina Alko and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Selina Alko has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  This book is showcased at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  This is a fabulous post replete with artwork.  At the publisher's website you can view other images.


To see the titles selected by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please take a few moments to stop at educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy.

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