Before he was Johnny Cash, he was J.R., a country boy who lived a hard, farming life and loved music.
This illustrated biography of the “Man in Black” uses poetry to chronicle pivotal moments in his life, from boyhood to stardom. Each poem borrows its title from one of Cash’s songs. Most document J.R.’s early life and the role of music in it: memorizing songs from the radio to entertain the neighbors, keeping his family’s spirits high as they pick cotton under the hot sun, and immersion in the gospel standards at church. Music helps J.R. get through the tough times, such as the death of his older brother, and allows him to dream of a life beyond the farm. The final poems summarize J.R.’s entrée into the music industry and his transformation into Johnny Cash. The narrative is well-researched, age-appropriate and beautifully expressive. The exquisite oil illustrations capture the setting and the emotion of each poem, allowing readers to feel as if they are there with J.R. as he works the harsh Arkansas fields or in the audience as Johnny whips the crowd into a frenzy plucking out his tunes on the guitar.
An exceptional portrait of one of the most recognizable musicians of all time. (author’s note, timeline, discography, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)