Terry Abrahamson’s The Blues Parade blends rhyming text with vibrant illustrations to introduce young readers to a brief history of the blues and its musicians.
Abrahamson is a songwriter perhaps best known for his work with Muddy Waters. The author’s distinctive, colorful illustrations support the text while incorporating additional references blues fans will appreciate. Two young characters, One-Nose Willie and Porkchop, are depicted on many pages observing the goings on.
A third-person narrator recites the text, which announces the coming of a “Blues Parade.” Readers then meet a string of high profile blues artists, including Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Chuck Berry, and a host of lesser known artists with “Cool Blues Names” like Walter Shakey Horton and Willie Big Eyes Smith. They also learn about “bluebonics” (“the language of the blues”) and the music’s roots in American slavery.
Abrahamson’s deep love of the blues shines brightly here, with stanzas praising the genre such as: “You’ll know the blues has found you/ from some field in the past/ to hold you like your mama/ when the world spins too fast.”
That said, true blues lovers will get far more out of this book than casual fans, and young readers may find themselves lost entirely, since the text seems to assume some prior knowledge. Sixteen musicians are named in the primary text and many more are depicted or named in the illustrations; because so many references are packed in, readers can’t connect with or learn much about any one figure or concept.
Further, the word choice, sentence structure, and figurative language will be challenging for young readers to follow, such as “Wild cats/ with wild names/ gone wild/ on guitars/ like a circus/ in a gumbo/ on a Ferris wheel/ to Mars.”
While lively and visually engaging, The Blues Parade is not entirely suited for young readers. Nonetheless, it gives adults a springboard for navigating children through the rich history and soul of this music.