cover image Shake Rag: From the Life of Elvis Presley

Shake Rag: From the Life of Elvis Presley

Amy Littlesugar. Philomel Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23005-9

Littlesugar's (Jonkonnu) evocative picture book about the boyhood of this rock and roll legend takes place in dirt-poor, mostly black Shake Rag, Tenn., in 1946, far from the grand gates of Graceland where Presley would one day live. Eleven-year-old Elvis never goes anywhere without his treasured secondhand guitar. He finds his inspiration in the radio songs of Mr. Arthur ""Big Boy"" Crudup and other blues guitarists and longs to play the kind of music he hears during clandestine visits to the traveling Sanctified Church--music that some people, ""black as well as white,"" called ""the devil's music"" (""They didn't think much of that bluesy piano playing or the soft wail of a horn on the hot night air""). These early influences would help land Presley his first recording contract at 19 and bring him worldwide fame. Cooper's signature oil-wash paintings--luminous as ever and glowing in tones of browns, yellows and earthy greens--draw readers into a fascinating era. Scenes of worshipers swaying and shouting in the revival tent, run-down storefronts in the glow of a lone streetlight and the portrait of a blues guitarist--eyes closed, lost in his playing--are not soon forgotten. Ages 5-up. (Oct.)