Great review of my debut picture book, Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, illustrated by Evan Turk, from Hilary Taber of Kid’s Center in Tuscon!
The story of blues legend Muddy Waters is told in prose that reads like a song from the blues, filled with both sweetness and longing. Author Michael Mahin does a fine job of recreating for a young reader the life of Muddy Waters from his childhood days to one of the high points of his career, the creation of his first album. All along the way through the book beside those sweet and longing words of the author are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away. They look like the blues! They look like Muddy Water’s story and some of his soul. Strong lines paint the bold story of the legend, and color reaches out to tell you the story of the emotion that Muddy was going through at different times in his life. Truly these are some of the most amazing illustrations to appear in a picture book. The people in Muddy’s life reach high in church, bow low over a harmonica, every movement is full of energy. Muddy’s grandmother appears as a larger than life character. She takes up so much room in one memorable two-page spread that one cannot escape the larger than life presence she must have had in Muddy’s life. There is some kind of motion everywhere, in the playing of music, in the form of Muddy’s grandmother as she hangs her laundry while dancing to Muddy’s music, and in the movement of Muddy himself as he plays and sings. The often repeated words, “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” tell the story of a man who would not be dictated to by any boss but himself and successfully turned that persistence into a sound that the music world had never heard before. This is a story that shows a child that sometimes staying true to yourself is one of the hardest battles, but ultimately one of the best. Muddy never gave up on his music the way he heard it. All of us have something like that call in our lives and Muddy teaches us through his life to listen to it, be true to it and to never stop believing that one day that will enable each of us to add a new sound to the world. One passage accompanied by a striking depiction of Muddy singing reads like music:
He called up the sticky heat of a summer
night, the power of love, and the need
for connection in a world that was
so good at pulling people apart.
And he played just like Son House
had taught him: not with his fingers,
but with his heart. Muddy sang about life
as he’d lived it, with all of its pain,
its power, and its glory.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters is an incredibly powerful picture book in every respect and it is highly recommended. This is a staff favorite as we all agree that it is one of the most amazing picture books we have seen this year. The book is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend and an amazing, emotionally moving experience of art so well matched to the life of Muddy Waters that you can almost hear the music playing. Hilary Taber, Kids Center