Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (9780399554704)
This picture book biography features a perfect match-up of author and illustrator. It tells the story of Elvis’ life from a young boy singing in church and in talent shows to him becoming a star. It is the story of a boy growing up poor with a father in jail and discovering many of life’s joys like gospel music and hamburgers. When the family moves to Memphis, Elvis needs to work to make money to keep them housed and fed. As a teenager, he turns himself into something new, coloring his hair black and adding his trademark hair wax. He falls in love, discovers blues music, and decides to be the biggest star in music. The speed of his journey into stardom is incredible, as he gets more inspiration for his unique music style.
Winter writes with a focused poetic style here, each page a short poem about Elvis’ life. Winter captures the poverty that Elvis is born into without romanticizing it at all. His story is particularly captivating because of how quickly he went from being entirely unknown to being a star. Another fascinating piece of the story is how Elvis realized that he needed to move and shake his hips to be able to sing the way he did.
Red Nose Studio has put their signature style in this book, elevating it into something really special that children will love to explore. There are certain page turns that are particularly effective, like the one where in a single turn of the page Elvis emerges with his well-known look. Red Nose completely captures the way that Elvis moves in their clay figures, something entirely remarkable for a still photograph.
A great pick for libraries, I’d recommend sharing some of Elvis’ music alongside the book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon
This picture book biography looks at the life of Leontyne Price, an African-American opera singer who burst through the color barrier. Born in Mississippi in 1927, Leontyne grew up poor in money but rich in music from both her parents. They also taught her that she was just as good as anyone else, no matter what their color. Leontyne was inspired when she saw Marian Anderson perform and then got to sing in the church choir when Anderson performed in 1939 after being barred from a whites-only concert hall. Leontyne headed to Ohio to college where she planned to be a teacher, but when her voice was discovered she changed her major to voice. She then went to Julliard and on to the world stage where she sang on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She became the first black singer to star at La Scala and broke wide the door that Marian Anderson had first opened.
Weatherford writes in prose that reads like poetry, broken into stanzas and offering celebrations of this inspiring woman on the page. From the pride and power of her upbringing by her parents to the final pages that show how far she has come, the book captures the strength and determination that it took to take a natural gift and break down barriers with it. Weatherford’s words are filled with moments that are inspiring, times that are amazing, but she also keeps things down to earth, showing even on the final page that Price is entirely human even as she reaches incredible heights in her career.
Colon’s illustrations are beautiful. Filled with his trademark scratches and lines, they have a beautiful flowing texture that carries from one image to the next. He uses sweeping colors to show the beauty of the music coming from both Price and Anderson, filling the world with the colors of music.
A beautiful and powerful testament to one of the ground breaking artists of our time. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This is a picture book biography of Florence Mills, a singer well-known during the Harlem Renaissance. It follows her from her childhood as the daughter of former slaves in a tiny house in Washington, DC. where she was always singing and dancing. She became known as a small girl with a big voice, but often faced racism and segregation when she was performing. She quickly learned to use her voice for activism as well as song. Florence became known not only across the nation but around the world for her voice. She traveled internationally, and continued to be an activist and to give back to the poor. Applauded for her singing, this book celebrates her good deeds just as much as her voice.
Watson writes a compelling story of a woman who was more than a beautiful songbird. She fought back against the bigotry of her time and also gave back to the community she came from. Watson distills Mills’ story into one that children can easily relate to. It exposes the overt racism of a previous time and will give children much to discuss about how far our society has come and how much farther we have to go.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in cut-paper and collage. They have a great texture to them, often showing a physical depth that is very appealing. The colors are bright and vibrant, fitting colors for this equally vibrant woman.
A very successful picture book biography of a woman whose voice broke down barriers along with her good work. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.