Picture Book Blues

Even in a drought and after a hot summer and fall, you can find something in bloom in the garden. You might have to look high . . .

Even in a drought and after a hot summer and fall, you can find something in bloom in the garden. You might have to look high . . .

What to do with conflicting advice from fellow writers (all whose opinions’ I value) about whether to use the AAB pattern of a blues song or not in one of my manuscripts? Some love the rhythm and the capture of a blues flavor. Others think the repetition of lines will just sound weird to kids.

Normally, I would mentally pace between two or more versions while trying to come to a decision.

A novel idea surfaces. Actual research. How have other picture books handled this?

Presenting some library picture books I found wonderful and useful:

Everybody Gets the Blues, by Leslie Staub, illustrated by R.G. Roth, and published by Harcourt Children’s Books in 2012, has a good message. When he’s sad, a child is visited by the Blues Guy. They find other sad people and sing to help the others feel better. The child thus chases away his own blues.

Everybody BluesThe book doesn’t use the AAB blues pattern. Parts of the text rhyme and parts don’t; but after several readings I still didn’t find a pattern for the switch from rhymed to unrhymed. The shifts in rhythm threw me off as I read it aloud. Overall, I like the book and its message. The illustrations are terrific. If you read it to a child, I suggest practicing to get the pacing that feels right to you.

or low,

or low,


My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, and published by Marshall Cavendish in 2011, is a biography told, for the most part, in the blues AAB pattern. Bearden was born in the early 1900’s in North Carolina, where his family faced discrimination. They moved to Harlem when Romare was three.

Hands Blues


The National Medal of Arts is one of the awards Bearden won in his lifetime. He was mainly known for his collages, one of which is incorporated into this book. This is a picture book for older children that connects to visual and performing arts, diversity, history, and good old inspiration.



Boycott BluesBoycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney, and published by Greenwillow Books in 2008, is excellent—let me repeat, excellent.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she is threatened with Jim Crow’s “peck, peck, peck.” Look for the ways Jim Crow is described and illustrated in the book.



under fleshy succulent leaves

or under fleshy succulent leaves .

The text mixes an inspiring you-are-there quality with the history of the Montgomery bus boycott. “And fight we did. We fought a quiet fight. No slingshots. No weapons. Not even spitballs. We fought with our feet. We said if you don’t, we won’t . . . ride at all.” We, the readers, experience a taste of how long that year-plus felt to the people who walked, walked, walked.

The book doesn’t use the Blues pattern, but the rhythm carries the reader. I can’t think of one spot where I had to back up to adjust the flow. It’s worth your while to find this book.

Baby BluesBaby’s Got the Blues, written by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Lauren Tobia, and published by Candlewick Press in 2014, is a total hoot.

Most books for children feature a protagonist the same age or a little older than the intended reader. A child the same age as the child in the book won’t understand the text but will enjoy the rhyme, rhythm and delight of the adult reader.

If you forget to look at night . . .

If you forget to look at night . . .

Older brothers or sisters might learn laughter is a great way to cope with the annoyances of a younger sibling and might remember some of his or her own baby frustrations.

While it doesn’t have an AAB pattern, I’m going to sing it a couple times more before returning it to the library.

Ol' Bloo


If you’re looking for a retelling of The Bremen Town Musicians with down-home flair, Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble, written by Jan Huling, illustrated, by Henri Sorensen, and published by Peachtree in 2010, will tickle your fancy with lines like:

you'd miss the one-night only ten o'clock show.

you’d miss the one-night only ten o’clock show.

“So Gnarly Dog—whose voice sounded like a guitar bein’ scraped with a washboard—and Ol’ Bloo Donkey—whose voice sounded like an accordion fallin’ down the stairs—continued on down the road, screeching to a boogie-woogie beat.”

What did I learn? The intermittent use of the AAB pattern in my manuscript is one of the ways to write about the blues. My pattern feels right and I’m happy with the story’s rhythm. Now just a tiny more tinkering . . .

Writing this almost 800+ word blog over the course of two days contrasted with the writing and revising of my 350 word manuscript over the course of fourteen months just hit me . . . maybe I’ll know what to say once the book it’s truly finished.

Do you know of any other good picture books featuring the blues?

And there can still be quite a show by your front door.

And there can still be quite a show by your front door.