Aspects of visual discontinuity detract from this otherwise sensitive treatment of a celebrated guitarist’s early...

This affectionate portrait of guitar great Arthel “Doc” Watson focuses on his formative musical influences during his Appalachian childhood.

Gourley’s lyrical prose incorporates occasional diction derived from the setting. “Yonder, where blue mountains meet the sky, Arthel Watson was born into a world of music.” Arthel listens intently—to farm animals, a distant train, peeping frogs and more. He has “ears like a cat.” A page turn reveals an inky-black double-page spread and one stark, speculative sentence: “Maybe it was because he was blind.” Arthel’s “heart full of melody” can’t be contained. He drums on pots and strums a steel wire strung to the sliding barn door. His Pappy gives him a harmonica, makes him a banjo and buys his first guitar, from which Arthel’s inseparable. Arthel learns farm chores, practicing guitar in between. “He reckoned if he could work like everyone else, he could play music like the folks he heard on the records and the radio.” The narrative ends with a beginning and an image of a taller Arthel, guitar in hand. Gourley’s watercolors, while often lovely, depict Arthel unevenly, with some spreads appearing less finished than others. For example, the boy’s strawberry-blond hair is, at turns, textured with light pencil strokes, heavily crayoned or left untouched.

Aspects of visual discontinuity detract from this otherwise sensitive treatment of a celebrated guitarist’s early inspirations. (biographical note, bibliography, list of websites) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-12988-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014


One of the watershed moments in African-American history—the defeat of James Braddock at the hands of Joe Louis—is here given an earnest picture-book treatment. Despite his lack of athletic ability, Sammy wants desperately to be a great boxer, like his hero, getting boxing lessons from his friend Ernie in exchange for help with schoolwork. However hard he tries, though, Sammy just can’t box, and his father comforts him, reminding him that he doesn’t need to box: Joe Louis has shown him that he “can be the champion at anything [he] want[s].” The high point of this offering is the big fight itself, everyone crowded around the radio in Mister Jake’s general store, the imagined fight scenes played out in soft-edged sepia frames. The main story, however, is so bent on providing Sammy and the reader with object lessons that all subtlety is lost, as Mister Jake, Sammy’s father, and even Ernie hammer home the message. Both text and oil-on-canvas-paper illustrations go for the obvious angle, making the effort as a whole worthy, but just a little too heavy-handed. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58430-161-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004


From the Little Shaq series , Vol. 2

A solid sequel, easily accessible to readers who missed Volume 1.

A fictionalized young Shaquille O'Neal returns for a second illustrated story about life beyond the basketball court.

Little Shaq and his cousin Barry come home from the rec center giddy about Little Shaq's first three-point shot but are greeted with another surprise. For the first time, Little Shaq's mom has made sushi for a family dinner. Barry and the others dig in, but Little Shaq's curiosity about sushi only hits him after the last roll is gone. Little Shaq's joy and confidence on the court—best expressed when Little Shaq exuberantly tosses a postgame grape into Barry's mouth ("Three points!")—contrast strongly with his unease trying new foods or activities. A large part of the book concerns a school art project, and Little Shaq's frustration is made poignantly clear through both illustration and description ("Little Shaq crumpled up his drawing and marched back to the supply tables"). Throughout, the love among Little Shaq's family members shines through in their interactions, and the story delivers a message without triteness. Taylor’s full-color illustrations break up text on almost every page, adding warmth and energy. (Final art not seen.)

A solid sequel, easily accessible to readers who missed Volume 1. (Fiction. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61963-844-0

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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