Marian Anderson was arguably the greatest contralto of the last century. Can anyone who's seen that grainy newsreel of her performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial forget her glorious bell-like voice as she defiantly sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee?" Also unforgettable was the would-be humiliation of her being barred from Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.—an insult Anderson transformed into an act of triumph that flattened and routed her enemies forever. (The Daughters of the American Revolution, who ran the hall and denied Anderson admission, never quite got over their comeuppance, especially when Eleanor Roosevelt gave up her membership in protest over their bigotry.)
Pam Muñoz Ryan's beautiful children's book, When Marian Sang, with its exquisite illustrations by Caldecott medalist Brian Selznick, gently tells the Lincoln Memorial story as well as other incidents from Marian's life, beginning with her Philadelphia childhood. The illustrations in the book are breathtaking. The great singer is caught in a cone of light that interrupts a sky full of stars. She sings with her eyes shut, wearing a black gown with a black velvet rose at her shoulder. A few pages into the story, we find the interior of a nearly empty opera house done in lavish detail. All of Selznick's illustrations are in shades of brown, cream and gold, almost like sepia-toned photographs. One picture is an amazing portrait of Marian as a child, standing on a chair among a choir of grownups and singing, as usual, with her eyes blissfully shut. What the reader notices is that the robes of the choir are parted to reveal a bit of the same starry sky that's on the cover, as if the singers are being transformed into pure spirit. You can almost hear the low, serene note that they're singing.
This wonderful tribute to the diva's groundbreaking career ends with her triumphant debut, at age 56, as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera at the Metropolitan Opera. Anderson, of course, went on to greatness, and her heirs include such singers as Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and Audra MacDonald. When Marian Sang is an inspiring, gorgeous look at her remarkable life.
Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York. Copyright 2003 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Spring
This picture-book biography of the American contralto indulges in mythification (although the keynote of the Anderson myth--being kept out of Constitution Hall by the D.A.R.--is here muted), but Marian Anderson's career was significant in both musical and social terms, and Ryan and Selznick get this right. Throughout both the large double-page spreads and text there's an intimacy of tone that gives life to the legend. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #6
Although this picture-book biography of the acclaimed American contralto doesn't play as fast and loose with the facts as did Ryan and Selznick's similarly formatted (and similarly lavish) Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, it does indulge in a similar mythification. Marian Ander-son's first European tour was not the unqualified success this book would have it; her audition with maestro Giuseppe Boghetti was not the dramatic scena depicted here; her career was built as much on Bach and Brahms as it was on spirituals, whose verses are sometimes employed awkwardly here to convey Anderson's state of mind at various pivotal moments. And oddly, the keynote of the Anderson myth-being kept out of Constitution Hall by the D.A.R.-is here muted, the Daughters unnamed until the author's supplemental note. But while Anderson herself was a modest woman, her career was big and glamorous, and significant in both musical and social terms, and Ryan and Selznick get all this right. The large double-page spreads are impressive in sweep and scale but keep their humanity by using a limited palette re-creating the tones of old sepia photographs; judicious sky-blue accents keep the sun shining. Some of the portraits of Anderson recall famous photos of the singer, and throughout both the pictures and text there's an intimacy of tone that gives life to the legend. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2002 September #1
Ryan and Selznick (Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, 1999, etc.) reunite for another magical collaboration, this time presenting Marian Anderson to a young audience. Using the visual metaphor of an operatic presentation, the production opens on the Metropolitan Opera stage just before performance, followed by a spread in which the audience watches as the curtain rises and a street scene reveals a tiny figure singing in a brightly-lit window. The shape of the volume lends itself to the broad sweep of the stage and even the title page reads like the show's program. Anderson's story is perhaps not well known to younger children, but Ryan does a good job of making it accessible. In simply stated prose she acquaints young readers, who may be disbelieving, with a time of social injustice when a person of color could not pursue a professional career in concert music and it was an act of personal courage to sing before racially mixed audiences. Verses of Anderson's most famous songs are included as they have meaningful application for events. The account includes the most notable episode in her life when, denied access to Washington's Constitution Hall because of her race, Marian sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of thousands-black and white. Selznick's carefully researched, sepia-toned, acrylic illustrations dramatize Anderson's strong, handsome face on most pages. That face is faithfully and powerfully rendered, eyes closed when singing, with an intense, almost sublime engagement in her music. The work culminates with another history-making moment when she realizes her dream and becomes the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. Selznick depicts her in this spread standing triumphantly in the spotlight, a vivid spot of color in an otherwise monochromatic treatment. A lengthy "encore" includes personal details and history from both author and illustrator; an "ovation" cites resources. Perfectly paced and perfectly pitched, this never loses sight of the fact that Marian Anderson was both a world-class musician and a powerful symbol to her people. A bravura performance. (notable dates, discography) (Picture book/biography. 6-10) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 October #1
The creative team behind Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride returns with a picture book biography as understated and graceful as its subject, singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993). Tracing the African-American diva from her beginnings as an eight-year-old church choir wonder ("the pride of South Philadelphia") through years of struggle to rise above the racism that would delay her debut with the Metropolitan Opera until she was 57, this book masterfully distills the events in the life of an extraordinary musician. Ryan's narrative smoothly integrates biographical details with lyrics from the gospel songs Anderson made famous: a passage about the budding singer's longing to perform onstage ("Opera was simply the sun and the moon a dream that seemed too far away to reach") segues to "He's got the sun and the moon right in His hands"; "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child..." follows a 2/3 spread of the singer on the bow of a ship bound for Europe, the sun creating a halo effect. Working with a sepia-toned palette, Selznick's paintings shimmer with emotion, his range of shading as versatile as Anderson's three-octave voice. Whether depicting her as barely visible beyond the crowds at her famous 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or in a final scene of her stepping into the spotlight at the Met, the images are striking and memorable (particularly the soulful face of Marian herself as she matures from child to woman). The author's and artist's notes, timeline and discography round out this stellar effort. Ages 6-10. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2002 November
K-Gr 5-In extensive endnotes, Ryan and Selznick mention the many Eleanor Roosevelt stories they heard after publishing Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (Scholastic, 1999). One fortuitous tale, concerning the First Lady and Marian Anderson, led to this companion book. Instead of the silver tones of the earlier title, this one employs acrylics in gold, copper, and a range of browns. As the book opens, the theater curtains part to reveal a girl singing in a window, framed in light. The title page is a concert program. The foreshadowing, tightly controlled recapitulation of themes, and stylized scenes (frequently incorporating stages) combine to suggest a performance. Linguistically and aesthetically, the book is a marvel of unified design. A trip to the Metropolitan Opera inspires young Anderson to strive for the dream she obtains by the end of the book. Early on, her master teacher enthuses that she "will be able to go anywhere and sing for anybody." The irony is played out as she tours Europe, but is stopped short in DC's Constitution Hall. Enter the Roosevelts, and what follows is history. When Marian sings, her eyes are always closed, her face a study of faith deeply felt. Hymns and spirituals punctuate the narrative, carefully chosen to tie into plot. Share this feast for the eyes and the soul with a wide audience.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 October
Interspersed with the spiritual songs she sang and including lengthy author's notes, this picture book traces Marian Anderson's history-making career. Add Ryan's Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (Scholastic, 1999. ISBN 0-590-96075-X) to bring three exceptional women to the classroom. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.