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Well, of course a book about blues musician Muddy Waters is the size and shape of a record album! On this book cover, Muddy Waters is framed sitting beneath a 3D-textured script of his name, while surrounded by richly textured patterns resembling Malian bògòlanfini (mud cloth). Illustrator Evan Turk employs visual metaphors throughout Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (written by Michael Mahin) to relate the life and message of Muddy Waters to readers. He even uses the pages before the story begins.


  • Endpages: They are the same shade of red as Mississippi Delta mud.
  • Half title: Again using designs from bògòlanfini, Turk centers the word Muddy in a design fashioned to resemble a muddy, flowing river. It’s hard to miss the care this illustrator takes with this subject.
  • Title page: The blues come from that muddy, blue river, don’t they? That’s where Muddy is from.

We haven’t even begun the story, and the double-page spread that comprises the copyright and dedication pages uses a golden yellow to convey the heat of the Delta. Or, is it the richness of that land? Cotton plants hold up balls of cotton, as if they’re hands offering them up in praise. This hand imagery is replicated throughout the book: when Muddy meets Leonard Chess; the way Muddy holds his guitar; and yet again when people are dancing to Muddy’s music. It’s the defiant hand that Muddy flips toward that white farmer who has his arms tightly folded against his chest. In this same scene, the cotton plants again reach up with their “hands,” this time surrounding and supporting Muddy. Hands verbalize so much meaning and context. Grandmother’s hand tells little Muddy, “No!” And there’s the image of fully formed, detailed hands when Muddy caresses his grandmother’s face. Hands are for offering and praise.

I am struck by the texture that Turk brings to his work, from the muddy blue river that flows through the Delta to the etched outlines that are characteristic of the illustrator’s work. On his blog, Turk describes how this particular work has been influenced by the Gees Bend Quilters, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Matisse, Picasso, and other great visual artists. They’re all there in the collages, use of color, patterns, and lines in this free-flowing visual story.

Texture brings feeling and emotion to art. It can help bring the reader into the story. Even with all the care and artistry that are used to tell this story, the story remains accessible to readers in much the same way as the blues.

There’s really only one thing left for me to do now: pull up Muddy Waters on YouTube and read the text of this book.

Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters.


Edith Campbell About Edith Campbell

Edith Campbell is an Education Librarian at Indiana State University in Terre Haute Indiana. She blogs at CrazyQuiltEdi.



  1. “I am struck by the texture that Turk brings to his work, from the muddy blue river that flows through the Delta to the etched outlines that are characteristic of the illustrator’s work.”

    Aye Edith. Absoultely stunning and phantasmogorical bliss. Along with “Wolf in the Snow” thios is probably the most stylishly electrifying book of the year. And I would say any Top 5 picture book of 2017 should include it. Or should at least consider it for that designation. Young Mr. Turk is already a master, and for my money the greatness of his illustrations has elevated with each of his releases. “Grandfather Gandhi” and “The Storyteller” brought in spledidly rendered exotic elements and some of the most creative application of size, shape and perspective of recent years. My school in Fairview, New Jersey has had the great fortune to have Evan speak in front of the student body, both times with Betthany Hegedus. The school Pincipal is so smitten with his work that she is always asking if she some original prints. But I know I am talking to teh choir here as your fabulous examination of the book here It helps of course if you REALLY love Muddy Waters. I do. Passionately. I bet of he were alive he’d shake Evan’s hand. What a treat for musically inclined children or for any children for that matter. I know your colleague Betsy Bird is over the moon with this book and she too wrote a rapturous essay on it. I agree 100%. None of us can of course know what the committee is thinking, but what a fabulous choice this would be to land one of the medals. I completely agree on the Matisse, Picasso and other artistic influences are evident. I am thinking of Ferderico Fellini as well. I do like teh writing as well, but of course Turk’s contribution here is defining.

    God what a feast for the eyes this book is. Thank you so much for the stupendous qualification review!

  2. Susan Dailey says:

    Thanks, Edith, for the wonderful review. I’m not sure I would have caught the significance and presence of hands in the book. I like the vivid saturated colors. Because of this, text placement and color is extremely important and the book does this very well.

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