~posted by Ruth

My Hands Sing the Blues:  Romare Beardon’s Childhood Journey  by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

“Watching the Trains Go By” is one of artist Romare Bearden’s most famous paintings.  The scenes he captured in this amazing artwork were inspired by the train he  rode as a child, from North Carolina to  New York, as he watched images whiz by.  Before he ever rode the train, he had heard many stories from his Cherokee great-grandmother and his African-American family of people wanting to be free and the train that carried his people North.  Basing the picture book on this painting,  Jeanne Walker Harvey creates a text influenced by the jazz that Bearden loved.   Bearden’s work–and this gorgeous picture book–are filled with visual metaphors of the the experiences of Romare’s family, faced with Jim Crow laws, when they decided to leave the South  and ride the train to shimmering New York City.

Elizabeth Zunon’s stunning artwork blends painted scenes with collage.  When I’ve shared this book with both children and adults, all have commented on the way the words and images work together to create an experience that lingers after the reading.  This is Zunon’s first illustrated picture book.  I am hoping it is the first of many collaborations between her and author Harvey.

I’d recommend this book for very young children, who will delight in the images and sounds of trains and savor the sounds and language.  And I’d recommend it for older kids as a terrific complement to a study of the civil rights movement as well an introduction to great 20th century artists.  Finally,  adults ( like me!) will appreciate it as a conversation-worthy coffee table book.  Can you tell I highly recommend it?


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