105 Ways to Give a Book

Cybils: Spiritual Picture Books

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.

Let It Shine: Three Favorite SpiritualsWhich 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.

Angels Watching Over MeAnother 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.

10 comments:

web said...

You're really missing out! The Hanukkah prayers are beautiful, I love to sing them. There are many lovely traditional songs associated with Hanukkah. You might look for a tape or CD next year.

TadMack said...

YAY Ashley Bryan!!!!
I haven't seen the other one, but I don't doubt that Mr. Bryan needs a Caldecott for Let it Shine. Beautiful, beautiful stuff, and I shall thank you for it NOW!

Lady Strathconn said...

I love Ashley Bryan! I met him once and was really impressed.
I am a Christian and an avid collector of rockin' holiday music. Over the last few years I have also started collecting Hanukkah songs to play for my (all Christian, public school) students. Granted it is all "rock" music by bands like The Leevees and Barenaked Ladies, but they beat "I Have a Little Dreidel" any day.

MotherReader said...

Web, I have to say that my statement was played for comic effect, but I will look for a CD for next year. We do have one that I do enjoy with a mix of traditional fare and Bare Naked Ladies renditions, and even the dialogue from that Colbert report from the other day. Oh, and the Adam Sandler songs. It's a pretty hip Hanukkah CD.

Tadmack and Lady S, you will flip when you see some of the artwork in this new Ashley Bryan. Stunning. I debated taking a picture of the pages and posting it, but wasn't sure that (1) I was allowed (2) I had time.

Sarah Miller said...

Would someone please, please, please give Ashley Bryan a GOLD Caldecott medal this year? Please?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I remember one of my friends at school complaining about the dearth of beautiful Hanukkah songs. I'm a fan of "Hanukkah O Hanukkah" myself (I almost made it a Song of the Week, before deciding upon "One Meatball" instead!), but it does seem strange that there haven't been more lovely songs written, or at least good lyrics written to existing melodies.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

P.S. In light of Web's comment, I should amend my post to add, "more lovely songs that have made it into popular public consciousness."

web said...

Well, hardly anything genuine about Jewish culture has made it into popular public consciousness, so no real surprise there.

Mary Ellen said...

Just discovered your blog on a friend's recommendation. What fun! I love it. In our house, Madeline ranks first. But we're also fans of that crazy pigeon...
One question, what would you recommend for a 13-year-old boy who likes adventure?

Bill/Cinéaste/FatherReader said...

Just in case anyone's interested, here's the track listing for the Chanukah mix CD MR mentioned above. I had made five Christmas mixes beforehand, one each year, and it seemed about time I should do something different.

(And being the obsessive fellow I am, I actually made a full-on CD cover and disc label as well.)

1. "Hanukkah Blessings," Barenaked Ladies
2. "Rock of Ages - Ma'oz Tzur," Marc Cohn
3. "The Chanukah Song," Adam Sandler
4. "I Have A Little Dreidel," Barenaked Ladies
5. "Kiddush Le-Shabbat," The Covenant
6. "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," South Park
7. "Oh Hanukkah Groove," The Frank London Band
8. "The Chanukah Song (Part 2)," Adam Sandler
9. "Happy Joyous Hanuka," The Klezmatics
10. "How Do You Spell Chunnukkahh?" The LeeVees
11. "Misirlou," Dick Dale and His Del-Tones
12. "Feast of Lights," They Might Be Giants
13. "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah," Barenaked Ladies
14. "The Chanukah Song (Part 3)," Adam Sandler
15. "Hanukkah Medley," Jeff Wolpert
16. "Rugrats Chanukah," Rugrats
17. "Eight Candles," Dave Koz
18. "Swingin' Dreidel," Kenny Ellis
19. "Goyim Friends," The LeeVees
20. "Hava Nagila," Dick Dale and His Del-Tones
21. "Oy to the World," The Daily Show