Mulford’s song about the tragic church shooting in Charleston in 2015 is transformed into a picture book.
The rhyming lyrics are simple, describing how a stranger came to a house of worship and was “let…in,” though “he was not friend, he was not kin.” The stranger “seemed to pray” but then he “drew a gun / and killed nine people, old and young.” On this spread, white text contrasts with an all-black painted background. President Barack Obama’s appearance with the community of mourners is then pictured with the chorus: “no words could say what must be said / for all the living and the dead // So on that day and in that place / the president sang Amazing Grace.” The painted pictures, with tones of blue, black, and purple, move from the church to a montage of clasped hands, a crowd of mourners, various pictures of Obama, and a spread showing each of the nine victims. The song can be found online, and its performance is deeply moving; in the video, the lyrics and paintings are a stunning combination, making this book seem like a great idea. Without the music though, the book lacks the soulfulness of the video, and the unfinished look of the static paintings is not nearly so effective. Endnotes describe each contributor’s relationship to the work (including performer Joan Baez and filmmaker Rick Litvin) and contain a QR code to access the video; endpapers provide sheet music.
Best read in addition to watching the video, this piece represents an important moment in U.S. history. (Picture book. 5-7)