Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. (authors),
Jerry Pinkney (illustrator), God Bless the Child (Amistad Press, 2004)
God Bless the Child is the classic song written by Billie
Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. and if you don't know it, you should. If you haven't
heard Ms. Holiday sing, run out right now and pick up one of the many 'best
of' collections that reside in most CD shops. Stick to the early stuff, before
her voice became ravaged with time and abuse, and you will understand why this
song is called a classic. There is a CD included in the back of this slim volume,
which features one of Billie's renditions of the tune. Beautiful. Timeless.
There are only three short verses, a chorus and a bridge, but the emotion Billie brings to those words, and the melody supplied by Herzog, tugs at the heartstrings. Illustrator Jerry Pinkney has brought a new level of meaning to the song by representing this emotion two dimensionally on paper with a set of beautiful watercolours which lift the lyrics to new heights. God Bless the Child becomes, in this form, something new, imbued with joy and hope.
Mama may have,
Papa may have,
but God bless the child that's got his own,
that's got his own.
The book is an entity unto itself. The cover sports a painting that doesn't appear inside, a boy playing his harmonica on the porch of a shack, in front of a set of packed suitcases and bags, ready for a move. The endpapers tell of a move from the South to the North. The front papers portray plain boards, the back papers show wallpaper. The title page shows sharecroppers in what may well be Mississippi. And throughout, the family is celebrated. These paintings tell their story with dignity and beauty. They show the work, the cotton, the exhaustion, the expectancy, the nervousness of a family leaving the land they know, and moving to a new life and hope in Chicago. Two double-page spreads are wordless portraits of the empty homestead, and the bustling metropolis.
The city is a lively place, and a bit lonely. Still, there is food, family, and music. And finally . . . education. The last page shows the boy engrossed in conversation with his teacher. Hope abounds.
Pinkney is a superb illustrator. Each and any of these spreads would make a solid stand-alone piece of art. Here, between these pages, are twenty wonderful examples of his work. And the lyrics that carry both their own meaning, and that added by the pictures. Not just a book for children, the jacket is right when it says "All Ages!" Marvelous.