Written as a first-person flashback, Romare Bearden (African-American artist) reveals one of the inspirations for his art—his past. Memories of listening to stories from his Great-grandmother, remembering life in the rural South, and riding on a train from North Carolina to New York City, reveal more than mere biographical data. Author Jeanne Walker Harvey writes in rhythmic, poetic language mirroring the jazz and blues music that also inspired the artist and reflects the rich culture heritage of Bearden and other African-Americans of his generation. Illustrator Elizabeth Zunon uses glowing oil paints with mixed media collage (paralleling Bearden’s own style). The pictures depict his memories along with images of rural life and segregation during the 1910’s and 1920’s when he was young. A focal point on many of the pages is trains both as narrative emphasis and as a way to make known Bearden’s passion for them.
My Hands Sing the Blues is a work of art in and of itself. The stunning blend of illustrations and poetic language make this book a must read. I love how Harvey brilliantly incorporates the blues music style in the text which makes it soothing and striking. While this book is an ideal selection to have on hand during Black History Month, its appeal is not limit to that event. There is a wide range of activities it can be used for by teachers from art and literature to history and music. Parents can enjoy reading it to their children just for the fantastic storytelling, melodic language, and brilliant illustrations. I highly recommend this book for all audiences.
- Language—Use the examples of onomatopoeia, alliteration, and rhyme to teach these sound devices to younger children learning beginning reading skills or older students learning about poetic language
- Art—The exquisite use of collage will inspire budding artist to practice this art media; students can, like Bearden, use their life experiences or music as inspiration
- History—Glimpses and references to the Harlem Renaissance, segregation, and the Jim Crow laws are craftily incorporated
- Literature—In a study of biographies, utilize as an example and discuss how it is like a type biography and how it is different; also can be used in a study of multicultural/African-American literature or poetry
- Music—Play samples of jazz and blues music; parallel the language and imagery of book to that of the music
- Literary Flashback—Define what a flashback is in literature; use the picture book as model, discuss how/why writers use it
- Writing—Students can write a story with a flashback or write lines of poetry imitating the blues inspired stanzas
- Moving—The artist looks back at his memory of moving from the South to the North; discuss how he probably felt and allow students to talk about their own moving experiences