Reviews for Sweethearts of Rhythm : The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World
Booklist Reviews 2009 October #2
*Starred Review* A Newbery Honor winner and a Caldecott Honor winner team up in this tribute to a real-life all-female jazz band from the World War II era. The premise behind Nelson's syncopated, swinging poems is that the instruments do the talking: it's nighttime in a pawnshop in New Orleans, just prior to Katrina, and the bruised and battered horns and various rhythm instruments realize that several of them were once played by girls, members of the Sweethearts of Rhythm band. It sounds artificial, perhaps, but it works beautifully, allowing Nelson a fresh perspective to express the prejudice that an integrated girl band encountered in the 1940s (I moaned, says Nova Lee McGee's trumpet, seeing this as a step down: to be played by a woman). But the social consciousness is never intrusive: who better to express how a swing band swung than the instruments that made the music? Nelson does it with rolling triple meters that drive the poems forward, the propulsive rhythms mixing perfectly with the words, which tell the story behind each song. Interestingly, Pinkney's art, awash in the beautiful scale of browns that reflected the band's appearance (largely African American with Asian, Mexican, and white members as well), not only provides rich harmony behind Nelson's words but also plays its own melody, supplementing the text with vivid scenes of victory gardens, women working in factories, and the startling reds and blues of V-J Day. Words and pictures swinging together capture the Sweethearts in full cry. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #6
Only the title and jacket copy set the stage: "In the 1940s...this all-female band found its way to the most famous ballrooms in the country...They dared to be an interracial group..." Since the author's and illustrator's notes, chronology, and bibliography are all relegated to the end, readers are plunged without further explanation into poems voiced by the instruments themselves, reminiscing in a pawn shop. "Then effortlessly, a blues in C / arises out of a phrase / and the old hocked instruments find the groove / and swing of the Good Old Days." So concludes the first of twenty poems that, somewhat obliquely, summarize the history of swing while also recalling the rhythm and titles of such favorites from the 1930s and 1940s as "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "The Hard Luck Blues," and "Lady, Be Good." Nelson's verbal evocations of the music and its players, and her wry asides ("Whose music is 'truer'? Your bald-eyed protest songs, / or the waves of joy in which people drowned their despair?...Shoot, taking the 'A' Train was a form of prayer") re-create a wartime when the absence of men enabled these talented women to pursue their art. Pinkney does them proud in expansive wordless spreads between the poems plus full-page art facing each poem; his vibrant watercolors, with such additions as scraps of music, capture the players' courage, their instruments' beauty, the joy of making music, the sober face of war, and the reality of segregation. Those unversed in jazz won't make all the connections; still, a book with rich rewards for anyone with the patience to decode it. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 September #2
Nelson brings her signature poetic treatment of history to this outstanding collaboration with illustrator Pinkney about a racially integrated "all-girl swing band" that toured the United States during World War II. Comprehensive backmatter grounds the poems and illustrations in research while inviting reflection on the creative process. The book proper is a stellar integration of art and text: Each poem adopts the retrospective voices of the band members' instruments, while watercolor illustrations enhanced with collage elements place their music-making in rich period detail that evokes the war, Rosie the Riveter, segregation and internment camps. The poet doesn't miss a beat as she fittingly employs swinging, triple meters capturing the essence of big-band sound and highlighting the transcendent joy that the Sweethearts' music brought to audiences at the Apollo, the Cotton Club, in smaller venues and even overseas in a postwar USO concert. The illustrator is at his best in the wordless full-bleed doublespreads interspersed throughout the book, which set a contemplative pace that invites flipping back and forth through the pages documenting the Sweethearts' travels, triumphs and travails. (Picture book/poetry. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 October #1
A Newbery Honor author (Carver: A Life in Poems) and Caldecott Honor artist (Noah's Ark) execute a masterful duet in this tribute to an integrated female band that toured the U.S. between the late 1930s and mid-1940s. In 20 poems titled after swing tunes, Nelson writes in the voices of the Sweethearts' instruments, now gathered in a New Orleans pawnshop. Connecting music to greater human truths (some dark, some triumphant), the verse strikes nostalgic yet celebratory notes, underscoring how the band's music delivered joy and hope during an era plagued by war and racism ("The jitterbug was one way people forgot/ the rapidly spreading prairie fires of war./ Man, the house would bounce when her licks were hot!/ We gave those people what they were dancing for"). Rendered in graphite, color pencil, watercolor and collage, Pinkney's luminous, multilayered paintings superimpose snippets of musical notation on images of the musicians and audiences in full swing. Balancing these rousing scenarios are less uplifting but no less striking signs of the times: segregated sinks in a washroom, soldiers marching off to war. On all fronts, a resonant performance. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) [Page 49]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2009 October
Gr 4 Up--Nelson's syncopated poetry jives perfectly with Pinkney's layered watercolors in this look at the famous all-girl African-American swing band that toured the U.S., breaking attendance records, from 1937 to 1946. Nelson speaks in the voices of the band's instruments, reminiscing about their glory days from the shelves of a New Orleans pawnshop, recalling the excitement of the road and the difficulties of Jim Crow. Her poetry evokes the rich wail of swing music with varied meters, rhyme schemes, and free verse, calling up memories of the Dust Bowl, World War II, rationing, segregation, and music that momentarily lifted its listeners above hardship. Pinkney employs graphite, color pencil, watercolor, and collage in lusciously hued illustrations depicting night clubs, dancers, Victory Gardens, marching soldiers, and musicians in a vibrant volume that will be just as useful in high school history and English classrooms as for upper elementary general reading, not to mention music and art at any level. A chronology of the Sweethearts' history enhances the poetry.--Joyce Adams Burner, National Archives at Kansas City, MO [Page 150]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2009 December
The swing music of the 1940s eased the ache in the American soul caused by World War II, with its attendant hardships and cruel Jim Crow laws. With many men away at the battlefront, an interracial women's big band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, played to overflowing crowds of mostly black audiences. Newbery Honor poet Nelson recreates their almost-forgotten story through the voices of their instruments, now gathered in the same New Orleans pawnshop. In swingy one-page poems, each instrument proudly remembers the "gal" who played her heart out Caldecott Honor illustrator Pinkney's luxurious watercolor and gouache paintings capture the beat and the fabric of the Sweethearts' music. Radiant full-color portraits alternate with scenes in rich browns reminiscent of the sepia-toned photographs of that day. Dancers of different ages and ethnicities abandon themselves to the music in rich stained-glass hues often studded with bits of sheet music. In gorgeous full-page spreads musicians play, soldiers march, and crowds on balconies celebrate victory at last. A poem titled "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" pays tribute to Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and the Bebop movement. The companion portrait in vibrant reds resembles a collage of marquees honoring great male musicians. For all who love poetry, music, and art, two of today's greats collaborate in a stunning addition to any poetry collection.--Marla K. Unru 5Q 4P M J S Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.