Alice Faye Duncan and Chris Raschka – Yellow Dog Blues
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
32 pages Hardcover edition
If you are searching for something with a music theme for the younger members of your family, here is a book that will undoubtedly delight children ages 4 to 8 years old. Mixing colorful illustrations with a sad tale, readers will be treated to a journey that encompasses a number of key sites in the legacy of blues music.
The author, Alice Faye Duncan, spins a narrative about a young boy named Bo Willie, who one morning discovers to his dismay that his puppy, Yellow Dog, has disappeared overnight. Immersed in a deep blues funk, Bo Willie checks with a local farmer and discovers that his dog took off down the famed Highway 61.
So begins the boy’s quest, with help from his Aunt Jessie, to find his dog. Duncan mixes in references to Dockery Farm, the Merigold blues club known as Po’ Monkey’s Lounge , Clarksdale, Mississippi, and finally Memphis, Tennessee. She also adds references to Muddy Waters, the Crossroads, and terms like “boogie,” “shimmy,” and “juke joint town,” giving adults the opportunity to provide more information about blues and how the references fit into the blues legacy. The plot never gets too heavy-handed while dealing with issues of loss, neatly summed up with a short poem at the end.
The other highlight of the book is the artwork drawn by Chris Raschka. With each turn of a page, his illustrations command your attention, the bold colors and animated characters bringing each facet of the plot into vivid relief. Highlights include his renderings of Aunt Jessie’s Cadillac, a portrait of Mr. Willie and his cigar, plus the Hick’s Tamale stand in Clarksdale.
At the end, there is a page devoted to the various conditions in the Mississippi Delta that gave rise to the music. To her credit, Duncan doesn’t shy away from mentions of slavery, segregation, and slavery in the brief outline, which could prompt meaningful discussions between adult and children readers. Following are two pages that add details to the seven stops that Bo Willie makes along the “Mississippi Blues Trail” in his search for Yellow Dog,
It can be difficult to find a way to share a passion for blues music with young children. Thanks to Duncan and Raschka, music-loving parents and grandparents have an age-appropriate approach that should certainly be fun for everyone involved. Well done!