cover image Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Gary Golio, illus. by E.B. Lewis. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5247

The inclusion of Johnson’s song “Dark Was the Night” on a recording aboard NASA’s Voyager frames this biography, handled with artistry by Golio and illustrated by Lewis in dazzling watercolors. Golio explains that in 1977, a collection of Earth’s music was launched into deep space, which included “a musician, playing his guitar and humming a tune of light and dark.” Information about Johnson (1897–1945) is scant, but the creators make the most of it: “You were born in the light, Willie Johnson,” Golio begins, as Lewis paints Willie’s mother cradling her infant close, her smile as warm in the sunshine. He loses her while he’s still young, then loses his sight. But his playing and singing gain notoriety, and eventually a man from a record company hears him. The volume movingly commemorates Johnson and his music, which “shined a light in the darkness and finally touched the stars.” Ages 5–8. (Aug.)