(Suggested reading level: Grade 4 and up)

Sweetheart of Rhythm by Marilyn Nelson had such potential, but I just can’t bring myself to say I loved it.

The subject matter is fantastic – the first integrated all women band in America. The Sweethearts of Rhythm played jazz and swing nationwide during the 1940s and were some of the best female musicians of the day. Not only does the book tell the story of the women, it explores the historical backdrop, from Jim Crow laws and segregation to the effects of the war.

The writing style is perfect. The story is told through series of poems, each with the title of a song from that era. The rhythmic nature of the poetry fits with the topic and they simply beg to be read aloud.

The illustrations, done by Jerry Pinkney, evoke the era and enhance the story dramatically. The images of the harsh lives people led, contrasted with the jeweled toned music really made me understand how much the joy and distraction from day-to-day life the Sweethearts brought to towns with them.

So far it seems perfect, and it really is a wonderful book, full of history and music, but for me it just ended up feeling sad. The poems, you see, are told in the voices of the instruments that the women had played, which is a unique idea. But the instruments are all together in the back of a pawn shop reminiscing about better times, about times when they were played and loved and cherished. Not only that, they are in New Orleans and it’s the night before Hurricane Katrina hits. It makes me cry.

You can purchase it at Amazon or an Indie bookstore.

80 pages
Published October 29, 2009 by Dial Books

3 out of 5 stars

I read Sweethearts of Rhythm as part of the Choose to Read Ohio program. The author, Marilyn Nelson, was born in Cleveland.


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