Dogs singing and playing the blues: you don't see that everyday. "The Four Dog Blues Band" (Mississippi Museum of Art, 2007, $15.95) is an entertaining children's book with vibrant colors and a playful rhythm to its words. The story is a fusion of entertainment and education. Sixteen current and past paintings and photographs from the Mississippi Museum of Art are interwoven throughout the story. One of my personal favorites is the "Dog in the Fog" photograph by Maude Schuyler Clay because of the sepia tone adding to its realism. I could almost feel the cool damp air of the fog on my skin. Another favorite is "A Season of Moment" by Glennray Tutor. Photorealism is a new style for me, but I enjoyed the intense colors and the unsullied attention to detail.
The story is about a hound named Chester who sets out for the big city of Jackson with the dream of starting a blues band. He begins his journey from the Delta and along the way, encounters and recruits the rest of his band: Boy, Dog in the Fog and Diva. Together they form the Four Dog Blues Band. The story also pays homage to the Mississippi landscape and critter life, with references to the Mississippi River, cotton fields, crickets and katydids.
Author Lianne Takemori seamlessly offers small discussions on artistic techniques and terminology throughout the pages. My son and I enjoyed discussing the element of shadow, lines, shapes and colors. The story also explores different types of media: photography, still life, dot painting, watercolors and graphite drawing. For example, the photograph of the Dog in the Fog is used to discuss water and reflection.
My son enjoyed the illustrations, especially one of Chester lounging in the grass howlin' a little tune. It was the first picture he saw when he opened the book, and he burst out laughing. How fitting that the illustrations in this book were done by then 11-year-old Maggie Dunlap. Maggie is the daughter of artists William Dunlap and Linda Burgess. Maggie was given the opportunity at a young age to express her artistic voice through this book and, hopefully this book will inspire other children to do the same.
"The Four Dog Blues Band" is several stories in one. It explores Mississippi as the dogs make their journey; it documents the age-old concept of making new friends; and it honors the blues of the South. It also teaches art in a kid-friendly way. I can't think of a better way to spark a child's interest in art and museums than through this lighthearted story.
I vividly remember the first time I saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre after studying art history in one of my college classes, and how it broadened my appreciation for art. I look forward to taking this journey with my son. He's already asked me if we can go to the Mississippi Museum of Art this weekend.
It was a nice break from TV for my son and me to read the book together. I made up voices for the different characters and gave my best rendition of blues singing. We learned a few new things and laughed a lot. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
What's On My Nightstand?
"Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff
(Mariner Books, 2009, $14.95)
"Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster-Burton
(Houghton Muffin Co, 2009, $23)
"A Light in the Attic" by Shell Silverstein
(Harper Collins, 1981, $18.99)
"Heartbreak Cafe" by Penelope Stokes
(Berkley Trade, 2009, $14)
"Can I Really Be Stress Free?" by Willie and Terica McKennis
(Pleasant Word, 2009, $11.99)
"New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer
(Little, Brown Young Readers, 2006, $19.99)
"The Shack" by William P. Young
(Windblown Media, 2007, $14.99)
"Prayers That Avail Much for Moms" by Germaine Copeland
(Harrison House, 2004, $4.99)
"New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook: Guided Practice in the Five Basic Skills of Drawing" by Betty Edwards
(Tarcher, 2002, $18.95)