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ODETTA by Stephen Alcorn


The Queen of Folk

by Stephen Alcorn, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Age Range: 7 - 10

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-439-92818-2
Publisher: Scholastic

Alcorn’s friendship with legendary folksinger Odetta (1930–2008) underpins his admiring, free-form narrative and stylized, heroic casein paintings. Selected biographical details play at the edges of the iconic, emblematic spreads, interweaving Odetta’s own perspective with the adulatory, authorial one. The third-person lines, peppered with incidental rhyme, move from the early years in “Burning Ham”—where her piano-playing so annoyed an aunt that “little Odetta / had no choice but / to shut / the lid / on all / those pretty keys”—to brushes with Jim Crow on a Los Angeles–bound train to an influential life at the forefront of the folk and Civil Rights movements. Occasionally poetic license results in oblique, perplexing lines: “From the cramped / Jim Crow car, / from the cramped / Knee grow car.” But readers navigating this swooping, visually stunning tribute, rife with soaring birds, bright textiles, shining stars and visual paeans (such as Odetta’s halo of piano keys and her guitar’s heart-shaped sound hole) will be much the richer for the journey. (author’s note, selected discography) (Picture book/poetry/biography. 7-10)