The book’s cover suggests the musical language and energy within, and of course the WWII period look and language. One of my favorite authors working with one of my favorite illustrators: I was excited and not disappointed. Marilyn Nelson chose to tell each poem from the point of view of an instrument that had been stored and given a new chance to speak. We hear a trumpet first feeling it’s a step down to be played by a woman instead of a man become jubilant to expand his range from marching tunes. The verse seems less grounded in imagery than Nelson’s other work, but more in sound. There’s a lot of repletion as there is in a song, and that helps capture the thumping beat of many. Sometimes the poems are about music, while others turn philosophical, addressing the role of music in wartime and whether something done for “fun” can be an instrument of social change. We get lines such as: “It was Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but it was a prayer for peace,” and “Must beauty apologize for simple elegance?”
Poems are titled after songs, something Carole Boston Weatherford did in Becoming Billie Holiday, a life told through verse intended for older readers.
In notes at the back, Nelson and Pinkney tell how they made a pact to do something new in this book. For Nelson, it was the point of view and using triple meters to evoke the swing band, while Pinkney added collage to his usual gorgeous paintings. I love the way torn sheet music or maps and scraps of color add a lively and jazzy feeling to the red, yellow, sepia, and blue images of women playing music and dancing. There’s buzz about Jerry Pinkney getting the Caldecott for his nearly wordless Lion and the Mouse also out this year. It’s charming, but If I were awarding prizes from my kitchen, it would go to Sweethearts, which I think is livelier, and bigger in scope, drawing in and through history, and I love the way he depicts humans.
The book includes a chronology as well as the mentioned author and illustrator notes. I was happy to hear that Marilyn Nelson danced around the house as part of her process!
Even if you need more poetry today (and I know I do: I heard Sherman Alexie talk about poetry last night at UMass, but he didn’t read any) please visit poetry roundup at Wild Rose Reader http://wildrosereader.blogspot.com