This is a 2004 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Myers, Walter Dean. 2003. Blues Journey. New York: Holiday House.
Here is a Digital Trailer for BLUES JOURNEY created by graduate student Michelle R. Alley.
Here is a Readers Guide for BLUES JOURNEY created by graduate student Tamara Hatcher.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2003. BLUES JOURNEY. Illus. by Christopher Myers. New York: Holiday House Books. ISBN: 0-8234-1613-5
Recommended Grade Level: Grades 4-7
BLUES JOURNEY is a collection of original poems that tell a story of love lost, slavery, and hard luck. It is written in a lyrical blues style with expressive illustrations of blues and browns by Christopher Myers. Walter Dean Myers provides a introduction in the beginning gives a brief history of the blues. The poems then follow the time line in the back of the book. The poems are written in a call and response form as a blues song would be sung. The emotion comes through in the words and illustrations as Myers write, “Strange fruit hanging, high in the big oak tree/ Strange fruit hanging, high in a big oak tree/ You can see what it did to Willie,/ can you see what it does to me?” The use of the phrases such as “strange fruit” to describe a lynching is an example of the blues and the codes the music held. The glossary in the back is a great resource for students to use to have a better understanding of this type of poetry. Due to the subject matter of the poems this book would be better used with older students, grades 4 – 7.
Book Links (A.L.A.) 01/01/05
Notable/Best Books (A.L.A.) 01/01/04
Five Owls 04/01/04
Publishers Weekly 03/03/03
Horn Book starred 05/01/03
School Library Journal starred 04/01/03
Kirkus Review starred 02/15/03
Wilson's Children 10/01/10
Booklist (February 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 12))
Gr. 5-8. The blues' deceptively simple rhyme scheme tracks the deeper feelings of lives that have been bruised. In this picture book for older readers, Myers offers blues-inspired verse that touches on the black-and-blue moments of individual lives. His son Christopher's images, which illustrate the call-and-response text, alternate between high spirited and haunting.
Horn Book (May/June, 2003)
In this collection of original poems, Myers makes the traditional three-line blues song look something like America's answer to haiku: "The thrill is gone, but love's still got my heart / The thrill is gone, baby, but love's still got my heart / I can feel you in this music, and it's tearing me apart." Along with the time-honored love-gone-wrong motif, Myers's blues extend themselves to themes of racism, loneliness, slavery, and just plain hard luck:
Horn Book starred (Fall 2003)
In this collection of original poems, Myers's blues extend themselves to themes of racism, loneliness, slavery, and just plain hard luck. Christopher Myers's illustrations are impressively composed and imaginatively varied in design. You'll have to make up the tunes, but Myers père et fils are so deeply immersed in the rhythms and idioms of the blues that the music will seem to come right out of you in response. Glos.
Kirkus Review starred (February 15, 2003)
A powerful union of text and image transmutes itself into a work of art-and it explains what the blues is, besides. Walter Dean Myers takes fragments of blues songs and creates an arc of poetry with them. His son, Christopher, using only brown paper, blue ink, and white paint, creates a visual counterpoint to the words that sometimes reflects them and other times goes to a different but related place. (Picture book. 6-11)
Questions to Ask Before Reading
Before beginning the book have Blues music playing softly in the background.
Invite the students to discuss with each other the following questions before reading aloud and /or listening to the audio version of BLUES JOURNEY.
I do recommend after reading the book listening to the audio version for students to get the full flavor of the poetry.
• Before showing the students the cover of the book have them make predictions about what the book may be about from just the title. After a few minutes of discussion show the cover and ask if there are any changes in their predictions.
• After looking at the cover ask if anyone has a connection to riding in a horse pulled wagon? What time period might be the setting for this book?
• What do you notice about the author and illustrator of this book?
Additional suggestions before reading the book
• Have students listen for the language used in the poems and for words that have other meanings. (strange fruit hanging, storm)
• Look closely at the illustration and text. - How does Christopher Myers use color to tell the story?
The audio version of this book is excellent. The music and the narration by Richard Allen bring the words to life.
Follow up Activities:
Use the book to create a timeline of Jazz/Blues music. Create the timeline to show decades. (The timeline on www.pbs.org can be used for this activity for younger students.)
• Students choose a decade and identify one historical event that happened in that decade.
• Research and write 3-5 facts about the historical event.
• Add the event to the timeline.
This activity can be connected to the Social Studies Timeline activity.
After giving the background on how Christopher Myers created the illustrations for BLUES JOURNEY – students can select a style to illustrate the historical event identified on their timeline.
• Brainstorm types of background materials and art supplies will be needed.
• Have fabric, burlap, brown bags, newspaper, and recycle materials ready.
• Paint, chalk, pen, pencils, colored pencils, paper – The ideas are limitless
This activity may work well as collaboration with the Art teacher if available. It will take a little time to gather materials.
After students have read additional books on the blues music and understand the history of the words. Have students identify words that could be used as code as used in BLUES JOURNEY. Using the same idea students should write a poem about the event identified on the Timeline activity or a current social issue and try to include at least one word used as a code word. Don’t forget to include a glossary for the word.
Interview Questions and Answers
This activity would go with a research project as a culminating activity.
* After reading and researching a Jazz/ Blues singer create a list of interview questions that you would ask if working for a magazine or talk show.
* After creating the questions, answer them as you think the person would from the information you have learned from your research.
Make a shoe box ( box) guitar. Shoebox Guitar
You can make your own shoebox guitar from items around your house.
You will need:
1 empty shoebox
3-6 rubber bands
1 ruler or paper towel tube (optional)
• Cut a hole in the top of the empty shoebox.
• Wrap the rubber bands lengthwise across the shoebox.
• Using tape, attach the ruler or paper towel tube to the back of the
box to act as the neck of the guitar.
• To play your shoebox guitar, simply strum or pluck the rubber
bands! If you want to make it more elaborate. Decorate using paint, stickers – use your imagination.
[This website has great interactive activities for students to learn more about Jazz/ Blues music and history.]
[This website is great for older students to hear how a writer takes a picture book to the stage.]
[ A great audio history of Blues Music. This is in the series of video clips that end with the Page to Stage clip that is listed first. The book BLUES JOURNEY is just the start to decades of history told through music.]
This site allows students to see and hear Christopher Myers talk about his life and his work. A link to a booklist of his work is available.
Adoff, Arnold. 2011. ROOTS AND BLUES: A CELEBRATION. Clarion. ISBN: 13: 978-0-547-23554-7
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2006. BLACK CAT BONE. Minnesota: Creative Editions. ISBN: 13-978-1-56846-194-6
Myers, Walter Dean. 1997. HARLEM: A POEM. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 13: 978-0-590-54340-8
Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY VOICES. New York: Holiday House. ISBN:13: 978-0-8234-1853-4
Myers, Walter Dean. 2005. BLUES JOURNEY [sound recording]. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. Live Oak Media. ISBN: 13:-978-1-59519-433-6
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2008. BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY. Wordsong. ISBN: 13: 978-1-59078-507-2
Additional Nonfiction Books:
Cohn, Lawrence. 1993. NOTHING BUT THE BLUES: THE MUSIC AND THE MUSICIANS. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers. ISBN: 1-55859-271-7
Collier, James Lincoln. 2004. THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG YOU NEVER KNEW. New York: Children’s Press. ISBN: 0-516-24429-9
Ford, Carin T. 2008. RAY CHARLES I WAS BORN WITH MUSIC INSIDE ME. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers ISBN: 13: 978-0-7660-2701-5