by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Lee & Low Books Inc., $19.95
Copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration
We've all heard Bob Marley's music, whether in advertisements sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Fugees cover of No Woman, No Cry, and most people (young and old) can probably sing along to some of his more famous songs. But before reading this biography in verse, I confess that I knew very little about the man himself, other than that he was a Rastafarian from Jamaica...and that his message of peace and unity inspire millions of college students each year to smoke pot. And yet, over the course of 17 poems, each paired with vivid paintings, and 4 pages of notes, I feel like I have a deep understanding of this music legend and his music.
From a childhood in Jamaica, where he read palms, got caught between parents from two different worlds and saw his share of poverty to his unfortunately brief adulthood of writing and performing music around the world before his death from cancer at age 36 (which he indeed foresaw over a decade prior) he saw his share of joy and pain. It was music and the rhythms of life that inspired him and led him down the spiritual path of Rastafarianism and also to meet his wife Rita.
As I learned more about Marley's life, the choice to do the biography in verse and include such colorful images made more and more sense to me. Marley was a poet, who made the realities of his world come to life through art. A straight text biography wouldn't be able to capture that in the same way that the rhythm of verse and the colors of the paintings do. Medina's masterful weaving in of lyrics into the poems deepened the connection between the man and his work.
The one thing I'm not sure about is the audience for this book. They're going for 9-12, but I'm not sure it hits the mark. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and felt transported by the words and images, I'm not sure a tween/teen would have the artistic appreciation and maturity the book requires. While I was eager to read the pages of notes and felt that they filled in the details and provided the context, I'm again not sure that those readers would stick around for that critical back matter. And while I think the picture book format is perfectly suited to the content, I'm not convinced that tweens/teens would want to be caught reading a "baby" book - even if it's written for an older audience (one of my ongoing prejudices against using the picture book format for this age group). All that said, I'd happily pick it up and read it again myself and gladly push it on any of my students who expressed even the slightest interest in reggae or poetry, with fingers crossed that they'd enjoy it as much as I did.
For other reviews of this book, check out:
I and I is a nominee for the Cybils Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category.
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