February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Rock On! | SLJ Spotlight

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Hey hey, my my, rock ‘n’ roll picture books are here to stay. These illustrated biographies focus on legends Johnny Cash, Keith Richards, and the Band’s Robbie Robertson.

johnnycashredstarNeri, G. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. illus. by A. G. Ford. 40p. bibliog. discog. Candlewick. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763662455.

Gr 3-5 –Even those who aren’t fans of musician Johnny Cash will appreciate the beauty of this biographical picture book. Written in free verse, with colorful, realistic illustrations done in oil, this title poignantly portrays the powerful influences of poverty, religion, family, and music on Cash’s life. When Cash was too young to work in the cotton fields, his father bought him a radio to keep him company. The boy could never turn it off, learning hundreds of songs that he sang to anyone who stopped by to listen. It became clear he had a gift that was meant to be shared with the world, but hard work to earn money for the family and a stint in the Air Force delayed that dream. This is a biography of one musician as well as a tale of how the determination to pursue a dream can pay off. The oversize format suggests Cash’s larger-than-life impact and image, but it also pulls readers in. Additional information is provided at the back, including more in-depth details about his life, a discography, and the ways in which the sociopolitical eras he lived through, such as the Great Depression and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, impacted his music. This is a real tribute to the Man in Black, written in an easily accessible, engaging manner that demonstrates the qualities he possessed that make him a hero to so many.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

GusandMeRICHARDS, Keith with Barnaby Harris & Bill Shapiro. Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar. illus. by Theodora Richards. 32p. w/CD. Little, Brown. Sept. 2014. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316320658.

K-Gr 2 –Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has penned a poignant picture book depicting his close relationship with his grandfather Gus. The author is keenly aware that his musical accomplishments will mean little to the book’s target audience and focuses entirely on his childhood, rather than on his later career. Back matter gives readers some basics on his life, including the charmingly humble statement “Keith later began playing in a band with a group of friends, including Mick Jagger. They called themselves the Rolling Stones.” He relates his experiences spending time with Gus, who took the boy on walks and gave him his first guitar, which started a lifelong passion for music. There’s little of the hilariously snarky Keith that adult readers will know from his autobiography, Life (Little, Brown, 2011); written in free verse, the text is tender, though never cloying, and both the author’s love for music and his grandfather come through. Loose black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations, done by Keith’s daughter, affectionately depict the title characters, as well as the various objects in their orbit (musical instruments, Big Ben, tea kettles, a double-decker bus), while backgrounds provide rich washes of purples, blues, yellows, and green, emphasizing the beauty and the sense of magic of the music. A gentle story celebrating the importance of family.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

rockandrollhighwayRobertson, Sebastian. Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. illus. by Adam Gustavson. 40p. chron. Holt. Oct. 2014. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9780805094732.

Gr 1-4 –This attractive picture book biography profiles artist Robbie Robertson, founder of the Band, the group known for backing up Bob Dylan and for the songs “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Written by Robbie Robertson’s son, Sebastian, the book takes readers through Robbie’s life, starting with his birth, covering his childhood in Toronto, development as a musician, and rise to fame, and ending in the mid-1970s with the Band’s final performance. The use of dialogue adds to the appeal, keeping the tone lively and accessible. The tone is enthusiastic, bordering on worshipful at times (“It was now 1961 and people came from far and wide to hear the hottest, youngest guitar player around”). Gustavson’s rich, nostalgia-tinged oil paintings will provoke plenty of smiles of recognition from adult rock fans, portraying as they do places such as the Brill Building, where Robbie met songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and Big Pink, the house in Woodstock, New York, where the Band’s most famous album was recorded, as well as artists with whom Robbie interacted, like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, of course, Dylan. However, these details aren’t likely to resonate with the intended audience, for whom the mere mention of Music from Big Pink and “The Last Waltz” won’t conjure up beloved memories. Though this is a well-illustrated and nicely told story, the subject matter will limit its appeal.–Mahnaz Dar, S chool Library Journal

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