cover image The Music in Derrick's Heart

The Music in Derrick's Heart

Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert. Holiday House, $17.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1353-9

Despite some lyrical moments, Battle-Lavert's (Off to School) attenuated tale of a boy learning to play the harmonica amounts to little more than a one-note story. It's a steamy summer (""The heat lay on Derrick's front porch like a wool coat""), but Derrick is excited when elderly Uncle Booker T. demonstrates his harmonica skills. To the mesmerized boy's delight, Booker T. ""play[s] gold and silver notes. Cheek to cheek. Face to face. Their noses testing the air. Twisting and turning. Turning and twisting."" The music inspires deep feelings: Big Mama cries, explaining later that Booker T.'s songs ""just set my soul on fire.... I'm thinking of all our kinfolk who have gone on to glory. If Booker T. keeps on playing like that, we going to have church right here."" As Derrick determinedly practices the harmonica, he repeatedly asks if he himself has ""the feeling"" yet and his uncle patiently replies, ""Slow down. Take your time."" Although there are minor diversions along the way, the story is dominated by obvious and predictable lessons. Bootman's (In My Momma's Kitchen) realistic oil paintings provide affectionate portraits of the characters but lack movement; they don't invigorate the text. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)