Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 Blue Grass Boy: The Story of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music


Music lovers will feel like organizing a barn dance when they read this picture book biography of Bill Monroe. The author traces the birth of bluegrass music from Monroe's childhood in Kentucky to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Participating in a "sundown jamboree" with his family, Bill would hear jigs, hymns, and ballads. But he also listened to the sounds of nature and learned to play a mandolin. He refined his skills playing at hillside dances and picked up the rhythms of the blues. Everywhere he went he kept his ears open to new sounds and styles, and finally he put them all together to make something new - bluegrass. And the rest is history. 

The text flows along like the songs of a homey bluegrass tune. And the illustrations have a down-home simplicity which fits perfectly with the subject. Several images are especially eye-catching. One shows Willie as a young boy with his eyes crossed and sounds (pictured as zigzagging lines), filling his ears. Another shows an antique radio on a U.S. map, with Monroe's band standing on top, and many small figures across the country dancing to the music coming from the radio's speakers. That especially captures the reach and appeal of bluegrass music.

Back matter includes more factual details and black and white photos of Monroe's life. An extensive bibliography, source notes, and picture and text credits give readers places to look if they want to learn more. And a final page features a large photo above the lyrics to the song, "Uncle Pen," written in remembrance of Bill's uncle.

Highly recommended for elementary school libraries and public library children's collections. Good for early grade biography projects, music appreciation and history units, and enjoying pieces of American cultural history. 

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

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