Friday, January 19, 2007

Little Stevie Wonder

by Quincy Troupe, illustrated by Lisa Cohen. This is a biography of one of the greatest musicians of our time. It is written in poetic verse, incorporating phrases from many of the well-known songs written by Stevie Wonder. Quincy Troupe is a poet who has published 14 books, including seven volumes of poetry. He has won many awards and was featured on PBS’s Bill Moyers's Power of the Word in 1989. He has read his work all over the world and taught writing in universities in several African countries as well as the United States. Read more about him and Lisa Cohen at this Houghton Mifflin site press release.

Lisa Cohen was born in Cape Town, South Africa and has traveled between SA and the US for most of her life. She has illustrated four children’s books. In an interview with the editors at Houghton Mifflin Cohen says,

“I grew up in South Africa and visited my father in California on school breaks. This turned out to be a great opportunity to get in touch with all the new music coming out of America. It took forever for American records to get to our stores, so it was my "responsibility" to bring home the latest releases. My friends and I would have regular jam sessions at my house, spinning records. One year I bought Stevie's Songs in the Key of Life album. My best friend, Sally, and I played it over and over and danced! I was so ecstatic when offered the chance to illustrate Little Stevie Wonder that I called my friend Sally in South Africa and we cried for joy, marveling at how it had all come full circle. Thus I've dedicated this book to her."

These two have teamed up to produce a beautiful and inspiring tribute to Stevie Wonder’s musical talent and joyful, exuberant life. Troups says, “He is a magical boy, this blind little boy. What he can’t see, he knows through touch, through his seeing-eye fingertips, through his big, warm heart that thumps in time with the music like an old African drum. …through his ears he sees more clearly than most people do with their eyes.”

Cohen’s vibrant paintings exude the energy and bounce of Wonder’s music. I especially like that the hair styles and dress of Wonder and his fans progress through popular styles of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. As you read titles like “Fingertips”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, “Isn’t she lovely”, Happy Birthday” in honor of MLK, Jr., and “We are the World” you can see Stevie and his fans dancing across the pages dressed in period appropriate clothing. Stevie’s hair starts out short, grows into a huge ‘fro, and then lengthens into his signature braids. His clothes go from conservative button down shirts and jackets to brightly colored dashikis.

Troupe ends by saying,

“a sequoia tree of a man.
He takes his INNERVISION,
his words,
his voice,
and spreads joy and peace,
telling everyone
that “We are the World”
and harmonizing “Ebony and Ivory.”
He keeps growing with a smile bright
As a clear daybreak on his dark, luminous face,
The words of his songs now dazzling stars,
Shining diamonds in the night sky,
Like words of Braille his fingers touch.”

This edition comes with a CD recording of two songs: “Fingertips Pt. 2” from 1962; one of his first hits, and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” from 1966. Stevie was 11 years old when he got his first recording contract with Motown, and continues to perform today. In the final pages of the book are an Author’s note summarizing highlights of his life and career, a chronology of his life and a select discography of his popular recordings. This is a great book for children interested in music and popular culture. Both of my little boys love music and I look forward to sharing it with them as I am sure they will be inspired and delighted with it.

1 comment:

kim said...

Thank you for that!