Monday, September 28, 2015

Jump Back, Paul

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poetry of Laurence Dunbar. Sally Derby. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Candlewick Press. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

It had me at hello.
You never heard of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar? Child, where've you been? I got to have a word with you. Why, back in the day, you'd have whole families sitting around listening while one of them performed "When Malindy Sings" or "Little Brown Baby" or "A Negro Love Song" (which folks most always call "Jump Back, Honey").
Within a page or two, I was just fascinated with the book, with the story, with the narrator, and just HAD to keep reading. I wasn't expecting to find a book about a poet compelling, honestly. But this is a well-crafted narrative.
Readers learn about Paul Laurence Dunbar. Readers get the opportunity to read many of his poems. And that opportunity comes within the context of learning about his life. And I think, in part, that is why it is so compelling. It isn't just "here kid, read some poems." Far from it, readers have all they need--in my opinion--to understand and appreciate the poems. Readers are given a taste only, just enough to make you want more.

I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure what I enjoyed most: learning about the poet, OR, reading the poems. I think both elements work well together. I think if readers had the biography without the poems, it would fall short. And I think the reverse is also true. Without knowing his life story, the times in which he lived, what mattered and why, the poems lose something--especially with so young an audience.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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