cover image THE BLUES SINGERS: Ten Who Rocked the World

THE BLUES SINGERS: Ten Who Rocked the World

Julius Lester, Lester Cohen, , illus. by Lisa Cohen. . Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0463-4

Lester's (When Dad Killed Mom, reviewed below) picture-book tribute to the blues—an art form in which "the music and the beat wrap around your heart like one of your grandmother's hugs"—and some of its greatest performers, hits all the right notes. Framed as a summertime storytelling session between grandfather and granddaughter, the narrative invites readers to picture the pair rocking on a front porch sipping lemonade. Lester profiles 10 blues, or blues-inspired, legends including Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Billie Holiday as well as Mahalia Jackson—who was widely considered a gospel singer but was influenced by and certainly influenced other blues singers—and Little Richard, who grew out of a blues background to invent rock 'n' roll. Each mini-biography contains factual information about the artist's singing/playing style as well as the author's personal connection to the singer/musician (e.g., "When I was a teenager, I was attending a meeting in Chicago with my church youth group. Mahalia came to our meeting and sang a few songs"). Lester's anecdotal approach, his leisurely pacing and abundance of colorful, down-home similes give the famous figures a tangible presence and make for a music history lesson that goes down as smooth as honey. The book's arresting design features large, boldly hued pull-quotes scattered throughout the text, as well as comments from various artists. Cohen's (Little Lil and the Swing-Singing Sax) chunky, stylized portraits of each singer capture some of the performers' signature looks, but young readers may want to seek out photographs for a different perspective. A bibliography and "Recommended Listening" list suggest opportunities for further exploration of this American music genre. Ages 5-up. (May)