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DADDY PLAYED THE BLUES

One family’s journey from Mississippi to Chicago in 1936, as recalled by the now-grown daughter, interweaves the history of the Great Migration and African-American blues heritage.

Cassie’s narrative begins as the family loads the car with all they own. Uncle Vernon’s up front with Daddy and Mama, and Cassie and two brothers ride in back, Daddy’s acoustic-guitar case across their laps. The family settles on Chicago’s South Side; the men work in the stockyards and play the blues every chance they get. Cassie’s narration seesaws between family scenes and insertions that feel contrived: a definition of the blues, particular blues lyrics, and name-dropped musicians. Oddest is a double-page spread that introduces musician Robert Johnson’s legendary devil’s bargain at a crossroads—without context. “Sometimes…I would fall asleep with the sound of the music in my ears, dreaming about Robert Johnson waiting at the crossroads for the devil to come.” The song is quoted above a sleeping Cassie. Opposite, a horned devil looms huge above Johnson in a red sky. Children not frightened by the image will surely be bewildered. The digital paintings resemble woodcuts. Garland’s signature use of squat, foreshortened figures effectively trivializes the adults, especially when contrasted with depictions of famous blues players, seemingly distilled from photos. In a lengthy author’s note, Garland provides historical background but conflates personal reminiscences with the musical history and celebrates the white rockers who appropriated the blues.

Skip. (song credits, map, thumbnail biographies) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-88448-588-9

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization.

A PLACE FOR PLUTO

If Pluto can’t be a planet—then what is he?

Having been a regular planet for “the better part of forever,” Pluto is understandably knocked out of orbit by his sudden exclusion. With Charon and his four other moons in tow he sets off in search of a new identity. Unfortunately, that only spins him into further gloom, as he doesn’t have a tail like his friend Halley’s comet, is too big to join Ida and the other asteroids, and feels disinclined to try to crash into Earth like meteoroids Gem and Persi. Then, just as he’s about to plunge into a black hole of despair, an encounter with a whole quartet of kindred spheroids led by Eris rocks his world…and a follow-up surprise party thrown by an apologetic Saturn (“Dwarf planet has a nice RING to it”) and the other seven former colleagues literally puts him “over the moon.” Demmer gives all the heavenly bodies big eyes (some, including the feminine Saturn, with long lashes) and, on occasion, short arms along with distinctive identifying colors or markings. Dressing the troublemaking meteoroids in do-rags and sunglasses sounds an off note. Without mentioning that the reclassification is still controversial, Wade closes with a (somewhat) straighter account of Pluto’s current official status and the reasons for it.

Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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The runt of the litter of print titles and websites covering the topic.

PRESIDENT ADAMS' ALLIGATOR

This tally of presidential pets reads like a school report (for all that the author is a journalist for Fox Business Network) and isn’t helped by its suite of amateurish illustrations.

Barnes frames the story with a teacher talking to her class and closes it with quizzes and a write-on “ballot.” Presidents from Washington to Obama—each paired to mentions of birds, dogs, livestock, wild animals and other White House co-residents—parade past in a rough, usually undated mix of chronological order and topical groupings. The text is laid out in monotonous blocks over thinly colored scenes that pose awkwardly rendered figures against White House floors or green lawns. In evident recognition that the presidents might be hard to tell apart, on some (but not enough) pages they carry identifying banners. The animals aren’t so differentiated; an unnamed goat that William Henry Harrison is pulling along with his cow Sukey in one picture looks a lot like one that belonged to Benjamin Harrison, and in some collective views, it’s hard to tell which animals go with which first family.

The runt of the litter of print titles and websites covering the topic. (bibliography, notes for adult readers) (Informational picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62157-035-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little Patriot Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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