Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 19, 2010

What I’m Reading: Amiri and Odette: A Love Story by Walter Dean Myers

This unusual – because teens are its primary audience — picture book about love set against a backdrop of gang violence is based on Swan Lake. Walter Dean Myers uses four acts as a structure and writes with rhyme and rhythms that reflect hip-hop and jazz. Javaka Steptoe’s collage-on-cinder-block illustration creates a sense of a danger in a place where the prince’s mother warns, “These streets have mouths. They’ll eat you, child!”

Walter Dean Myers, award-winning author of more than eighty books, writes in the introduction that he’s long loved the ballet Swan Lake, and one day after listening to Tchaikovsky’s score became more aware of the threat of violence in the music. He set his version in a housing development where he suggests present day dangers as grave as folklore’s magic spells. As in Swan Lake, a mother worries about her son. As in Swan Lake, a prince and a woman fall in love at first sight. Two men fight for this damsel in distress, which is not my favorite story, but I realize other people don’t raise their eyebrows as often as I do over such. On the whole I felt the book compelling with its hard and zigzagging sounds, sweet and broken rhythms, and brilliant collages made with candy wrappers, gold plated jewelry, feathers, and newspaper. Even the typeface jumps around, and the sharp yellow, orange, or red words change size and sometimes appear in all capitals. The boldness and urgency in the tale is unforgettable. If you like poetry, and ballet — or its basketball player equivalent, which is highlighted here — and a love story with grit, this may be the book for you.

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  1. I’m not sure this is the book for me (not a basketball fan) but I admire Walter Dean Myers for busting out of the box. The art sounds quite intriguing.

  2. Walter Dean Myers seems quite adept at busting out of boxes, which I admire him for, too. I always like to see how people play with the forms of old tales. And Steptoe’s art is stunning.

  3. Poetry Friday response
    I’ve always loved WDM. I used to do a literature circle unit using his fiction. Can’t wait to read Amiri and Odette!
    Stacy from Some Novel Ideas

  4. I reviewed this one for Guys Lit Wire a while back. I loved that he used Swan Lake as his story base – very cool, I thought.

  5. Thanks for sharing this! I’m so intrigued by your description and will definitely look for this book. Must pass this on to my 13 year old as well – a lover of poetry and ballet. I also blogged on a Walter Dean Myers book for Poetry Friday today.

  6. Re: Poetry Friday response
    There’s such an array to choose from: your literature circle sounds fun! Thank you for stopping by, and I’m sure you’ll be moved by the book.

  7. If anyone can get guys to take a look at Swan Lake, it may be Walter Dean Myers. Thanks for letting me know about your review. I’m going to go check it out.

  8. This book sounds made for a thirteen year old lover of poetry and ballet. I’m going now to see what you wrote: this is so much of what I love about Poetry Friday!

  9. Interesting… right? I am currently reading his other new title – RIOT – written as a screenplay.

  10. Yes, Nan, thank you for pointing me to this book! It is a fascinating take on Swan Lake. Yikes, now I need to add Riot to my list. This man is prolific!

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  12. Off to put this one on reserve right now. Sounds intriguing! Thanks.

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