Black cat bone

Black Cat Bone: the Life of Blues Legend Robert Johnson by J. P. Lewis

Lewis, J. P. Black Cat Bone: the Life of Blues Legend Robert Johnson. Illus. Gary Kelley. Mankato: Creative Editions, 2006. Print.

Although this book is designed as a large-format picture book, Black Cat Bone is more likely to appeal to older children (middle school and adolescents) as a poetic text, with its rich illustrations and unusual narrative flow.

The foreword of the book addresses a reader who knows some about blues musicians, as well as has some hint of the history of blues music in the United States. The language of the text is not trying to tell a linear story, but to be more evocative of a time, and of some of the historical context. The book actually has several texts: the address of the historical context that bookends the work, the bluesy poems which make up the majority of the text, excerpts from Johnson's own lyrics, and a footer running throughout the book, which provides aphoristic summaries of Johnson's story:

“He was destined for legend
not a field hand's work.”

Each text tells a part of the interpretation of Johnson's story. With the images, it adds up to a faceted narrative of the man and his musical legacy. The illustrations alternate between impressionistic pastels in deep dark colours, reinforcing the air of mystery around Johnson's life as understood by popular culture. Kelley's other illustrative style is reminiscent of Indonesian shadow-puppets, dramatic and exaggerated in their execution. A particularly lovely example is show in full on the cover, a depiction of Johnson and the devil facing each other, each with a hand on the guitar. This image is reproduced in the text, split by the page turn in a clever design turn.

Recommended: 3 stars out of 4
Reviewer: Allison Sivak

Allison Sivak is the Assessment Librarian at the University of Alberta Libraries. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Library and Information Studies and Elementary Education, focusing on how the aesthetics of information design influence young people’s trust in the credibility of information content.