In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Jerry complains that he thinks that his dentist became a Jew for the jokes. In a reverse, I can’t go all-in on Judaism because the music sucks. I mean, 5768 years and the most memorable song we’ve come up with is “I Have a Little Dreidel.” It’s just so sad.
Now Christian music rocks. (And I don’t mean that Christian Rock rocks, because that’s a whole other thing going on there.) There are great hymns, Christmas carols, and centuries of amazing classical music. And let’s not forget gospel music or the earliest gospel music, the spiritual.
Which brings us to one of the most beautiful books of the year, Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, by Ashley Bryan. The text is from the spirituals “This Little Light of Mine,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” Don’t be shy about singing instead of reading this book, because that’s the way to do it. The words to several verses are included, and the illustrations complement the text.
What am I saying? The illustrations are the point of this book. This beautiful, beautiful book. Put together with cut paper in amazing and intricate patterns, the visuals are spellbinding. The cover doesn’t do justice to seeing the artwork taking over two-page spreads, with the text underneath in the bottom inch of each page. It’s absolutely breathtaking. While there is a focus on African-Americans in the illustrations, so many pictures are done (like the cover) with multicolored (like orange and purple and pink) people, that it keeps a universal, inclusive feel. I won’t be the least bit surprised to see this title on the Caldecott list next month.
Another possibility for the Caldecott list, in my humble opinion, is Angels Watching Over Me. The simple, traditional song is adapted by Julia Durango with a additional storyline that takes a young African-American boy through a perfect summer day from dawn to dark. Of course, as the title would suggest, angels are always watching over him as he enjoys all the world has to offer him. The text is simple, rhyming couplets interspersed with the song lyrics which are, almost in their entirety, “All night, all day, angels watching over me.” And what angels! Not only do they represent different races, but different species too. There are lion and elephant angels in the hovering circle. Now I’m making it sound silly, but it’s not. It really fits. Hold it did I mention the illustrator? No? That’s the problem here. It’s Elisa Kleven, and she’s a genius.
She’s made every page, every spread, a celebration of color and detail and shading and vision and imagery. I’m not sure whether to read the book or pull the pages out and frame them on the wall. I would say that the first two-page spread is one of the most exquisite pictures I’ve ever seen. The angels hover in the dark blue sky circling the earth and the sun is rising in a brilliant yellow glow and on the land there are tiny zebras in Africa and tiny bridges in North America and tiny pagodas in Asia and tiny boats on the ocean and every angel is unique and colorful and vibrant... anyway, it’s gorgeous.
Two beautiful books about music and angels and God. Don’t try to choose. Get them both whether from the bookstore or library and thank me later.