Book Review: Boycott Blues
Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation
written by: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Brian Pinkney
published by: Amistad/Greenwillow, 2008
Audience (reading level): 6 to 9 (Flesch-Kincaid 2.0)
Come along as Dog Tired, a “feisty hound,” starts singing the blues. Listen as he tells you about Jim Crow, Rosa Parks and her refusal to move to the back of the bus. Rub your tired feet while he reminds you to keep the faith on day 100 … 200 … 300 of the Montgomery bus boycott. Then cheer as the Supreme Court tells Jim Crow to fly away on day 382.
Wow! I really don’t know where to begin in describing the book. There are so many layers. Boycott Blues is history. It is a chronicle of the Montgomery bus boycott. There are facts (dates, names, places) about the Civil Rights Movement, but they stay in the background as the foundation of the story.
It is poetry. The emotions – anticipation, anger, disappointment, frustration, fear, pride – jump from the pages and push you forward. The author’s wordplay is phenomenal : Dog Tired, introduced above, also describes our legs after long days; a blue hound, itself a symbol of Southern tradition, sings the blues; and Jim Crow is a scrawny bird. The imagery goes on.
It is music. Dog Tired and his lyrical presentation that draw the reader into the lives of the men and women of the boycot. He reminds you that the seasons have changed and that your feet ache. He warns you about the tricks and deception. Then he reminds you about why you can’t give up.
It is the south. The author has juxtaposed (that’s not a word I get to use too often) two very different things. She presents bigotry and segregation as the evils that they are, yet she doesn’t let us forget that culturally and spiritually — with music and faith — the south has added beauty to our world, as well.
Together, the words and illustrations leave an indelible mark. Brian Pinkney’s incredible illustrations are drawn (basically) from three color families: black, blue, and yellow. A single background color, with swirls of hues, fills the page and tells you what mood to expect. Then you see the action brought to life with broad, varied strokes of black paint. If you want a sneak peak, check out the teachers guide, as it is filled with pieces drawn from the book’s art.
When I closed the book after the first reading, I turned right back around and read it again. It is as enjoyable as a poem and collection of art as it is a story about history. This is a book that MUST be read aloud.
If I had any disappointments, it would be that the book doesn’t come with a CD. For those unfamiliar with the blues, having some background music, or even extra tracks, would be so beneficial. More than that, this is a book that needs to be read “right.” The narrator needs to be a person with a strong, deep voice (not squeaky or soprano) that can convey the emotions just by their town. The person that came to mind? Whoopi Goldberg.
The jacket flap lists this as a book for the 5 to 8 audience. This is a pretty sophisticated presentation of the Montgomery bus boycott, so I’m having trouble seeing this for Kindergartners and even first graders. Even the discussion questions and classroom activities seem to be geared more toward an older audience.
Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation is a powerful book. It not only creates a venue for explaining history, but it opens the door to immerse kids in culture and expand their experiences. If you are looking for a way to bring reading to life for kids, this is a must read.
Citation: Author Andrea Davis Pinkney describes Dog Tired as a “feisty hound” in a Q&A the publisher produced for this book.