We continue to celebrate Black History Month here in GatheringBooks with Jeanne Walker Harvey’s My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Perfect for Nonfiction Monday which is being hosted this week by Alex Baugh of The Children’s War.
Feeling the Beat of Romare Bearden. I have been intrigued by this book ever since I’ve read the reviews of a number of fellow Nonfiction Monday enthusiasts. The author of this lovely book, Jeanne Walker Harvey, is also an active participant of Nonfiction Monday, so it’s a real treat to find her book here in our community libraries in Singapore.
Romare Bearden is a new name for me. I did not know about his artwork until I opened this picture book. And being a huge fan of collage art work and blues and jazz, I immediately fell in love with the man and naturally I used the book as an excuse to search out more of his works that could be found on the world wide web.
The book (which I believe is meant for young readers – aged 5 to 8) is meant to be a sampler, a visual taster if you may, of Bearden’s life. The Author’s Note found at the back of the book shared a few more biographical information that one would not be able to glean in the upbeat lyrical style that Jeanne adopted in the actual narrative:
After the Civil War, Romare Bearden’s great-grandparents were among the African-American middle class that established business in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where the railroad and cotton industries prospered. When Bearden was a young child, however, his family faced discriminatory Jim Crow laws and attitudes. In 1914, the three-year-old Bearden and his college-educated parents participated in the Great Migration North, moving to New York City. After his family moved to Harlem, Bearden spent many fondly remembered summer vacations in North Carolina with his great-grandparents.
Bearden, of African, Cherokee, and Italian descent, was one of America’s most vibrant and innovative 20th-century artists. Although Bearden achieved artistic success with different styles and media, today he’s remembered mainly for his collages, which he referred to as ‘paintings.’ In his collages, he not only analyzed the social and political issues of his time, but he also told his personal story and the daily life experiences of African Americans living in the rural South and the urban North.
Visual Jazz and Snapshots of Dreamlike States (with Rhythm). The entire feel of the book can be paralleled to dreamlike states – with rhythm and rhyme. I have a feeling that a lot of young kids would love reading along as train engines are depicted to pick up speed: “Ka-nook Ka-nee, Tink-a-tink, tink-a-tink, Bye-bye, Trade Street Station.”
It has a blast-from-the-past vibe as Harvey and Zunon shared snapshots of Bearden’s childhood in North Carolina, quiet moments with Grandma “down the old dirt road” and “riding up on Great-grandpa’s shoulders, I’m a strong and mighty tower.”
While the difficulties shared by Jeanne in the Author’s Notes can be deduced from the illustrations, it was not the highlight of the narrative. There is lyrical subtlety and a quiet (but strong) voice that emerges from this very thoughtful, whimsical representation of an important man’s life.
About the Author and Illustrator (info taken from the book’s jacketflap).
Jeanne Walker Harvey became fascinated with Romare Bearden’s amazing collages when she was a docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She has a degree in English literature and psychology from Stanford University and has taught language arts in middle school. Ms. Harvey has authored another picture book, Astrol the Steller Sea Lion. She lives in Marin County, California, with her husband. She has two sons in college and a black Labrador who sits at her feet when she writes. To find out more about the author, visit her at her official website.
Elizabeth Zunon was born in Albany, New York, and grew up in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where her love for children’s books and painting was encouraged. Ms. Zunon now lives in Albany, where she explores a multicultural world through painting, beading, sewing, and collage. To find out more about the illustrator, visit her official website.
My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon. Marshall Cavendish Children, New York, 2011. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos were taken by me.
Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge Update: 5 of 12
PoC Reading Challenge: 7 of 25