Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When Marian Sang

I don't usually write posts about specific books unless one really speaks to me. Yesterday, I read such a book.   I'm not sure how I managed to miss When Marian Sang (2002, Scholastic Press) until now, since I love both Pam Munoz Ryan's and Brian Selznick's work. (They also collaborated on the book Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride).

I'm sure many will cite this non-fiction book as an excellent look at segregation, prejudice and equal rights. And it certainly fits that bill. But that's not the only part that spoke to me. What I love is the way Ryan and Selznick convey musical expression through words and pictures.

Consider this from the opening page: "It was her range of notes that caused all the commotion. With one breath she sounded like rain, sprinkling high notes in the morning sun. And with the next she was thunder, resounding deep in a dark sky."

And later, " ..her voice was distinct- strong and velvety and able to climb more than twenty four notes."

We learn of Marian's devotion to family, the support of her church, and her exclusion from a music school based solely on her race. Lyrics of songs she sang woven throughout the story bring an immediacy to the tale, even though the events happened more than 70 years ago.

My favorite is a huge double-page spread -- a closeup of Marian's face with text along the outside edges. Her eyes are closed as she sings to a crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. "Oh, nobody knows the trouble I see. Nobody knows my sorrow..." Through Ryan's words and Selznick's powerful illustration, I could feel her soulful singing, even though I had never heard her voice before I read the book. That page gave me goosebumps. From the text: " ...silence settled on the multitudes." The same silence settled on me as I studied the illustration that reveals such deep emotion and reread the words that convey the same.  Ryan and Selznick masterfully conveyed a deeply musical feeling without music.

Have you read this book? Thoughts? Have you heard Marian Anderson sing?

(I found some clips on the internet and have since listened to Marian sing. I also reserved a copy of her album of spirituals through my library system. I encourage you to do the same when you read this book).

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