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Review of Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters
by Michael Mahin; illus. by Evan Turk
Primary, Intermediate    Atheneum    48 pp.
9/17    978-1-4814-4349-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-4350-0    $10.99

McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield (1915–1983) is known for his role in establishing the musical genre known as the “Chicago blues.” This picture-book biography begins with his childhood in Mississippi and his fondness for music — the blues in particular. His grandmother, who raised him after his mother died in childbirth, told him that he couldn’t “eat the blues for breakfast” and that he shouldn’t waste his time on music. “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” This refrain resurfaces throughout the book during pivotal moments in the musician’s life. For instance, he did not do what he was told before walking away from backbreaking work in the fields and heading for Chicago, or when he was instructed to play his music a certain way by club owners and a record producer. Mahin’s text is engaging, rhythmic, soulful, and written to reflect the blues that influenced Muddy Waters. About his music, Mahin writes, “It was a deep-feeling, gutbucket, gut-aching music full of life and love and trouble and pride.” Turk’s expressionistic mixed-media illustrations, many of them double-page spreads, aptly convey the emotions associated with Muddy Waters’s music. Clippings from the African American newspaper The Chicago Defender are incorporated into the images, providing important contextual information. The book concludes with an author’s note and resources for further reading and listening. Readers should note that although Mahin reveals that “some narrative elements are fictional,” he does not identify which ones.

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonda McNair

Jonda C. McNair, a former elementary school teacher of students in grades K-2, is a professor of literacy education at Clemson University in South Carolina.

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