Joel Harper & Gary Kelley – Frankie Finds The Blues
If you are looking for a way to get your younger children or grandchildren interested in blues music, the short book might just be the ticket. Author Joel Harper is a teacher with an abiding interest in music and instruments from around the world. He has channeled that knowledge into tale of a young African-American boy, Frankie, who goes to a blues concert with his grandmother, somewhat grudgingly as he is a self-proclaimed hip hop fan. But he is entranced by the guitar player’s finger-picking, which his grandmother explains to him, along with a brief history of the music’s origins. The young man is surprised to learn that hip hop music traces its roots back to the blues.
Full of excitement, Frankie uncovers his old guitar and begins to practice, learning again that the study of an instrument is hard work. The difference is that this attempt comes with a newly-found drive to succeed. That vision helps Frankie to ignore the teasing taunts of his friends. A chance encounter at a neighborhood park connects the boy to a local man who plays real-deal blues guitar. After calming his mother’s concerns, Frankie begins an apprenticeship with Walter that finds him fulfilling his dream.
Harper’s story line moves quickly through time without much detail. But Gary Kelley’s illustrations do a wonderful job of adding color and detail to the plot, making the characters real and believable, particularly the drawings of Frankie or Walter with their guitars. Also included are two pages with nine small portraits on each honoring masters like Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, to jazz icons Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and a nod to Chuck D, the leader of the rap group Public Enemy. Other pages feature quotes from Willie Dixon and Bo Diddley.
The foreword was written by Taj Mahal, who addresses the question of the current state of blues music. His comments find him encouraged by worldwide acceptance of the music, and a growing interest in exploring the physical locations where the music originated. He ends his remarks by stating how much a story like this would have meant to him as a young man. Similar sentiments are expressed on the back of the book jacket by an impressive group consisting of Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Keb’ Mo’, Charlie Musselwhite, and Barbara Newman, CEO of the Blues Foundation.
Consider this book to be an extension of the ongoing efforts to educate the nation’s youth through Blues In The Schools programs, with the learning done through reading rather than listening. Picture yourself reading to the the young people in your life, sharing the love of music. And if you buy a copy of the book, get a second one to donate to your local library or elementary school. The world will be a better place……….