Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: My Hands Sing the Blues

My Hands Sing the Blues
written by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
2011 (Marshall Cavendish)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

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Today my memory whirls back to my North Carolina past.

Famed 20th century artist Romare Bearden was born in North Carolina in 1911. At the age of 3, his family moves by train to New York City to escape the oppressive Jim Crow laws of the South. This makes a huge impression on the young Romare as he has to leave his beloved great-grandma and great-grandpa behind. As an adult artist in Harlem, Bearden uses trains in several of his paintings including the inspiration for this book, "Watching the Good Trains Go By." Bearden is later quoted as saying "I never left Charlotte except physically." Romare Bearden received the National Medal of Arts in 1987 and left behind a legacy of helping younger artists and being the "nation's foremost collagist."

One of the great joys of writing this blog is learning about people you never knew before and what inspired them to greatness. My Hands Sing the Blues is an excellent biography that combines rhythmic language and wonderful collage illustrations that illuminate the heart and soul of Romare Bearden's childhood journey. I appreciate Jeanne Harvey's choice of how to structure the sentences in this book. The text is one long blues song that helps you understand Bearden's attachment to his past and his eagerness to capture this journey in his collages.

Like a flower, I have roots in my Carolina past, 
roots sunk deep in my childhood long past.
The people and the places are in my art to last.

Likewise, Elizabeth Zunon's exquisite collages give us insight into Bearden's work and his heart.  

My Hands Sing the Blues could serve as a resource in your classroom in several ways. Students could create a collage to reflect an important moment in their lives or to accompany a poem that they have written for a poetry unit. For older students, I would add this book to my biography collection. I would also accompany this book with works by Donald Crews. My Hands Sing the Blues reminded me of his work and in doing some searching I found that Mr. Crews's daughter Nina Crews lists Romare Bearden as an influence.


  1. Nice! Another review of this book. This is getting a lot of love recently. I don't think we have this here yet in Singapore seeing that it's been published just this 2011. I'd definitely be on the lookout for this one though.

  2. Thanks very much, Jeff, for such a thoughtful review. I really appreciate it. And that's so interesting about Donald Crew's daughter being influenced by Romare Bearden.I've had the same experience, learning about how his art reached others, including the playwright August Wilson with his play "Seven Guitars."

  3. And thanks Myra for your nice comment! I hope the book reaches Singapore someday :)

  4. This book deserves a lot of love. Thank you Myra for stopping by and good luck Jeanne with the book!


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