Christopher Myers 1975-
American illustrator and author of picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Myers's career through 2004.
An emerging figure in the world of illustrators for young adults, Myers is best known for his collaborations with his father, renowned author Walter Dean Myers. His evocative, collage-style paintings and illustrations have accompanied several of his father's works, including Shadow of a Red Moon (1995), Harlem: A Poem (1997), and Monster (1999). In 1999 Myers published his first solo effort, Black Cat, which was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Through his innovative prose and artistic techniques, Myers conveys a sense of pride and passion in America's urban landscapes and the African American experience.
Myers was born in 1975 to Walter Dean Myers and Constance Brendel. He began drawing at an early age, finding inspiration in old and second-hand photographs. Myers enrolled at art school at age thirteen and later attended Brown University, majoring in American civilization and art semiotics. He also participated in the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Studio Program. Myers initially helped his father with research, but in 1995, he was offered the opportunity to illustrate his father's science fiction book Shadow of a Red Moon. The two have continued their collaboration, publishing five works together to date. Myers lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he designs clothing in addition to writing and illustrating books.
Myers's illustrations were first featured in Shadow of a Red Moon, a futuristic fantasy tale about a group of teenagers in a post-apocalyptic world who are trying to travel from their Crystal City to the legendary Ancient Land of their ancestors. Though his work was well-received, Myers did not attract widespread critical acclaim until the publication of Harlem: A Poem. Depicting a variety of scenes from the famous African American Harlem district in New York City, Myers utilizes a variety of disparate techniques—ink, gouache, cut-paper and paint collages—to convey the depth and vitality of the poem's urban setting. Myers also provided a series of illustrations for This I Know: Poetry across Black Cultures (1998), a selection of verse from African American poets. In Black Cat, Myers combines rhythmic poetic lines with full-page photograph and ink collages to create the story of a bold and confident black cat, wandering through a vast cityscape. As the cat effortlessly strides across rooftops and through shadows, a series of voices inquire: "black cat, black cat, we want to know / where's your home, where do you go?" Myers also penned Wings (2000), which draws on the ancient myth of Icarus and Daedalus. Set in a contemporary public school, Wings follows a new student, Ikarus Jackson, who is ridiculed for having wings on his back. However, Ikarus eventually learns to value his individuality with the help of a girl who admires him. Myers continued his exploration of flight in Fly! (2001), using lush watercolor illustrations to tell the story of a lonely young boy watching packs of pigeons fly through the sky. In 2000 Myers created artwork to accompany his father's young adult novel Monster. The plot—told through an atypical structure of journal entries and screenplay excerpts—revolves around a teenager who is sent to prison after it is suspected that he was an accomplice in a murder. In 2003 Myers published two additional collaborations with his father. In Blues Journey (2003) Myers presents a series of blue ink and brown paper illustrations to enhance his father's impressionistic rhymes about blues music and African American culture. A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament (2003) views biblical stories through the eyes of youthful narrators, with Myers employing a range of media in the illustrations, including photo collages, drawings, and photographs.
Since his first publication, Myers's artwork has been consistently praised for its inventive use of media and unique collage techniques. Reviewers have frequently noted the manner in which Myers is able to create a range of interesting variations using a limited color scheme. Though his partnership with his father has produced his most critically and commercially successful works, Myers's solo efforts have received widespread acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Wings, in particular, has attracted favorable notices from commentators who have lauded its uplifting and positive thematic message. Though his career continues to develop, Myers has frequently been cited as one of the strongest new talents in the field of children's literature.
Harlem: A Poem was named a Caldecott Honor Book. Both Harlem: A Poem and Black Cat have been named Coretta Scott King Honor Books, and Black Cat was named as an ALA Notable Book. In addition, Wings has been labelled a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book.
Shadow of the Red Moon [illustrator] (young adult fiction) 1995
Harlem: A Poem [illustrator] (picture book) 1997
This I Know: Poetry across Black Cultures [illustrator] (poetry) 1998
Black Cat (picture book) 1999
Monster [illustrator] (young adult fiction) 1999
Wings (picture book) 2000
Fly! (picture book) 2001
Blues Journey [illustrator] (picture book) 2003
A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament [illustrator] (young adult nonfiction) 2003
Christopher Myers and Rudine Sims Bishop (interview date March-April 1998)
SOURCE: Myers, Christopher, and Rudine Sims Bishop. "Following in Their Father's Paths." Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 2 (March-April 1998): 49-55.
[In the following excerpt, Myers discusses his views on art and illustration, his working relationship with his father, and the inspirations behind Harlem: A Poem.]
Christopher Myers lives in Brooklyn, and has been drawing for as long as he can remember. Christopher started attending art school when he was thirteen. He is now twenty-three years old, and a graduate of Brown University, where he majored in American civilization and art semiotics. His first illustrated book wasShadow of the Red Moon, a science-fiction novel written by his father.Harlem, the text of which is a poem written by his father, is his picture book debut.
Christopher, who has his father's gift for hyperbole and humor, believes that he has been thinking about illustrating children's books "on and off for years, because every time Pop went away he brought back 3000 children's books. And I found that as an artist, I had problems with the way a lot of children's books tend to talk down to kids visually as well as literarily. And I thought there was a need to try and bring a certain level of sophistication to images in children's books."
Christopher has had several opportunities to talk to children aboutHarlem. "We discuss the book in terms of images you see of Harlem, and of neighborhoods like Harlem, on the news. If you're a kid growing up in Brooklyn, or Harlem—the various Harlems of the world—you're constantly told that your neighborhood is a scary place, and that comes into conflict with your own perceptions of the neighborhood. That's one of the things I was trying to talk about within the visual realm of that book, and that my father was trying to talk about with the words."
Harlem the poem is a song of praise to Harlem, its history as the cultural capital of Black America and symbol of urban Black culture and community. Since Harlem was his father's growing-up place, not Christopher's, I asked him about his impressions of Harlem and his familiarity with it. "I love Harlem. When I was growing up, every weekend or so, my father and I would find ourselves on 125th Street, and he'd trot me through the streets and talk about [imitating his father's voice], 'That was where I dropped some orange peelings, and the preacher came and made me pick them up, and then told my mom, and I got two beatings that day.' He'd share that kind of intimate history. I began to realize that every time my family gets together, it's Harlem that's on their minds, it's Harlem that happens. And in a similar way to people who are from India, from China, from Jamaica, from Tobago, or from Nigeria, you know that there's always a part of home that's there; and it's the same way with Harlem. Harlem is a very different place now from when my father grew up, but it's still the place that has formed a lot of who I am. I see ways now that, as I walk down the street, as I live my life, Harlem is a legacy, Harlem is an attitude. There's so much within that concept of neighborhood, within that concept of family—things you carry with you that transcend generations."
As an artist, Christopher's path inside the field of children's books may eventually diverge from his writer father's, but so far they have overlapped. I asked Christopher about how they collaborated on Harlem. The poems and the art, it turns out, were created separately, rather than collaboratively, "because we've got different visions. His consciousness and sense of place deal a lot more with a concrete history, whereas I am thinking in a more visual way. To see how those different visions rubbed up against each other was what made the book exciting for both of us to work on, and I hope, exciting to read."
The illustrations inHarlem . . . are collages. I asked Christopher to talk about his choice of that medium. "One of the things that I have been working on in my own artwork is the idea of re-figuring popular images of African Americans. With this book I tried to do that in a really concrete way. I gathered magazines, the magazines that we use to define ourselves and the magazines others use to define us—Essence, Ebony, Vibe, Source, etc.—and I cut them apart and literally re-figured them in terms of images that I'm interested in. Then I took a lot of photos; I looked at a lot of photos; I thought a lot about just how we are depicted. I think that we need to transcend the simplicity of the statement, 'I want a positive image.' When we say that, what too many of us mean is 'I want an upper-middle-class image.' You've got to try to find the beauty in where you are or where you have been. There's beauty wherever you look, but the question is, What kind of beauty are we willing to see? This is what I tried to do with the formal qualities of the book, as well as trying to make it painterly."
Because historically the African-American artist most closely associated with collage is Romare Bearden, I asked Christopher if he was conscious of Bearden as an influence, or of any other artistic influences in his own work. "Oh, Lord, yes. It absolutely spans from Romare Bearden, but I also tried to deal with some less well known artists. I'm really interested in William H. Johnson's work, as well as the work of David Hammond, who is a sculptor in New York. I tried to deal with that in terms of a sensibility as well as a subject matter. Another thing that was important to me in terms of the book was to try to deal with the architecture of urban spaces, and the architecture of Harlem. You'll never find a place as full of red brick and fences as Harlem. That was very much a deciding factor in how I thought about the book. As much as the people, it's about the space. It's about red bricks and fences, and what does that mean, what does that do to your head?"
I also noted that collage was the medium chosen by [illustrator] Javaka Steptoe and wondered if Christopher saw a trend or a connection: "I think that collage is one of those central metaphors of the African diaspora. A lot of art—be it jazz, be it blues, be it musical Wins, be it artistic forms, be it dance forms—is oftentimes a collage of other forms. It's about making do, it's about economic factors that we had in our past. This is part of what quilt-making is for me right now. It's about taking those little pieces of something and putting them together. I think that's why we have such giants of collage—Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence—because as Black people we have a special relationship to it." It appears that Christopher is in children's book illustration to stay. Two future books are already in progress, one a "paean to urban beauty," in which he explores the architecture of urban spaces through the persona of a black cat, the other a piece about public sculpture that explores ideas about "who we valorize and how we valorize them." He also continues to create in other artforms, such as sculpture, which he sees as possibly the most accessible, yet the most neglected, artform in terms of what we offer to children. He is currently engaged in sewing, making flags "in a quilty style," which he says has been changing his outlook on "what work is, and what visual work is, and how much that might be related to labor and gender and ideas like that."
HARLEM: A POEM (1997)
Publishers Weekly (review date 13 January 1997)
SOURCE: Review of Harlem: A Poem, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 2 (13 January 1997): 76.
This heartfelt tribute captures the many moods of Harlem, bringing to life a very real urban community steeped in cultural history. [Walter] Myers begins his poem with the words "Harlem was a promise / Of a better life, of a place where a man didn't / Have to know his place / Simply because he was / Black"; this cautious optimism informs the text [ofHarlem: A Poem ]. Children play on sidewalks and the smell of barbecue lingers. But there is sadness too—a "fleet of funeral cars" or "endless depths of pain / Singing a capella on the street corners." Throughout, the past overlays the present, like a legacy passed down ("A journey on the A train / That started on the banks of the Niger / And has not ended"). Dreams dreamed in present-day Harlem are a part of this continuum, and music is the means of expression. The text pays homage to the "weary blues that Langston knew / And Countee sung"; to Sunday night gospel music and Lady Day on the radio. Christopher Myers, who previously illustrated his father'sShadow of the Red Moon, delivers bold collages that are both stark and lyrical. People stare out of his paintings, challenging or appealing to the viewer, or lost in reverie. Rough cut paper and daubed paint combine to create a raw immediacy. This is by no means an easy book—most of the allusions, if not the poem's significance itself, will need to be explained to children—but its artistic integrity is unmistakable; the effort its presentation to young readers may require is worth it. Ages 5-up.
Melissa Hudak (review date February 1997)
SOURCE: Hudak, Melissa. Review of Harlem: A Poem, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. School Library Journal 43, no. 2 (February 1997): 212.
Gr 6 Up—[Harlem: A Poem is] a visually striking, oversized picture book. Walter Dean Myers's songlike poem relates the story of a group of people who settled in New York City, hoping to improve their lots in life, only to discover that racism could still keep them from achieving success. Well-known Harlem landmarks, such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater, are mentioned, as are famous African Americans, like Langston Hughes and Joe Louis. The pain of discrimination is made abundantly clear through Myers's forceful, often bitter words. The pride and determination of the people of Harlem are also demonstrated, as is their at times overwhelming despair. The bold collage and ink drawings complement the text well. Although the book paints a vibrant picture of the area and its residents, it is difficult to imagine its proposed audience. Many young people will not be able to grasp the subtleties and imagery of the poem or understand its frequent cultural references. The artwork is fresh and eye-catching, but it, too, is sophisticated. Overall, this is an arresting and heartfelt tribute to a well-known, but little understood, community that may take a bit of effort to sell.
Michael Cart (review date 15 February 1997)
SOURCE: Cart, Michael. Review of Harlem: A Poem, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Booklist 93, no. 12 (15 February 1997): 1021.
Gr. 6-12. The two Myerses—author and artist, father and son—celebrate Harlem [inHarlem: A Poem ], which they perceive both as a city and a "promise of a better life," in quite different but wonderfully complementary ways. The author views Harlem— where he grew up—as a symbol of African American aspiration; the artist shares a more concrete city composed of "colors loud enough to be heard." In a text that is as much song as poem, the author offers his impressionistic appreciation for a culture that is predominantly music-based, with its roots in "calls and songs and shouts" "first heard in the villages of Ghana / Mali / Senegal." In his hotly vibrant ink, gouache, and collage images, the artist shows us the textures of the city streets, the colors of "sun yellow shirts on burnt umber bodies," and even, it seems, the sounds the words themselves evoke. The very look of metaphorical moments is well served by the text, but it is Harlem as a visual experience that YAs will return to again and again, to admire and wonder at what is realized with truly extraordinary grace and power by this young artist of such wonderful promise.
Jessica Higgs (review date September-October 1998)
SOURCE: Higgs, Jessica. Review of Harlem: A Poem, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Teacher Librarian 26, no. 1 (September-October 1998): 50.
"Take a journey on a train that started on the banks of the Niger, and has not ended." [Walter] Myers writes about Harlem and captures all the colors, scents, sounds and emotions, the hope and despair, the mixing of races, music, art and literature. His son's intense collages reveal all that Harlem is—"bad and cool brothers," "full lipped full hipped women"—a place "where sparrows sit on fire escapes outside rent parties to learn the tunes." [Harlem: A Poem ] is a vivid and personal poem which at the same time reveals what Harlem is to all those who live there.
BLACK CAT (1999)
Julie Cummins (review date March 1999)
SOURCE: Cummins, Julie. Review of Black Cat, by Christopher Myers. School Library Journal 45, no. 3 (March 1999): 181.
Gr 2-5—Dramatic, evocative perspectives capture the sense of the inner city and the enigmatic existence of a streetsmart, no-nonsense cat roaming there [inBlack Cat ]. Rhythmic poetry poses questions about the golden-eyed animal with lines like: "black cat, black cat, we want to know / where's your home, where do you go?" As readers follow the creature across car hoods, wire fence rims, and into subway cars, the starkness and harshness of the city are provocatively drawn. The bold collage art that incorporates photographs, ink, and gouache contrasts the sinuous movements of the cat against the angular urban cityscape of roof tops, ball courts, and fire escapes. Myers's style carries a familiarity fromHarlem (Scholastic, 1997) but here the illustrations are full page, with no white space, and the white-and-colored text on black backgrounds adds to the somewhat ominous tone, effectively conveying a secretive, haunting mood shaped by lingering images. This creative work pulses with city rhythms and scenarios, just waiting to be discovered and discussed.
Mark Rotella (review date 29 March 1999)
SOURCE: Rotella, Mark. Review of Black Cat, by Christopher Myers. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 13 (29 March 1999): 104.
An unseen narrator [inBlack Cat ] follows a lone black cat posing the refrain, "Where is your home?" in this ingenious tour of an urban landscape. If Myers's montage illustrations forHarlem paid homage to its people and history, here the mixed media images revere the starkness and beauty of the city streets themselves. As the stealthy feline, subtly comprised of dark fabric swatches with delicate patterns, makes its way down to the subways and up to the rooftops, the creature moves gracefully and purposefully. Rarely, save for a stop at the basketball courts or the playground, does the cat encounter anyone else, yet it never seems frightened or lonely. Myers imbues even the night vistas with pulsing purples, greens and oranges that seem to insulate the cat from harm, and the design plays up Myers's exquisite color sense. In one spread, for instance, a rose-colored trio of apartment buildings enveloped by a fiery sky appears alongside an image of the cat atop a darkened brick wall next to a quartet of glass green bottles with just a hint of rosy-streaked yellow sky in the background. The text itself reads like captions to the striking images, which develop a visual rhythm of their own: the metal pillars of a subway station echo in the bars of the "playground cages" and fire escapes; the honeycomb-like quality of the chain-link fences reappears in the backboard of a basketball hoop. Myers thus creates a comforting, familiar world for the cat, which exudes confidence as it answers the text's recurring question: home is "anywhere I roam."
Mary M. Burns (review date March-April 1999)
SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Review of Black Cat, by Christopher Myers. Horn Book Magazine 75, no. 2 (March-April 1999): 199.
In evoking the style and spirit of a streetwise feline, Black Cat travels independent and unfettered through urban landscapes. Dynamic, haunting, dramatic, the book is a multisensory experience. It immediately attracts attention through a series of striking photo-collages enhanced with gouache and ink. An authoritative typeface holds an interpretive poem whose rhythms and concepts serve as both descant from and commentary on the illustrations. The use of a simple refrain ("black cat, black cat, we want to know / where's your home, where do you go?") provides a unifying element; in the end, the cat responds that his home is "anywhere I roam," thus reaffirming the tone set by its antics, climbing fences, scaling walls, balancing on neon signs. Edgy, visceral, this dazzling book captures the rhythms of the city and the gritty beauty of the urban landscape.
Stephanie Zvirin (review date 15 April 1999)
SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Review of Black Cat, by Christopher Myers. Booklist 95, no. 16 (15 April 1999): 1531.
Gr. 3-8. The illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book, Harlem (1998), contributes both words and text in this picture book that will have an exceptionally wide audience. Elementary-school children will focus on the progress of a sleek black cat as it travels along quiet city streets, over rooftops, and into the subway, seemingly intent on some destination it alone knows. Older children, even some in junior high, will focus more on the pulse of the rap in the words and be drawn to the surreal images of the city, a place many of them will recognize as home. Myers' collages, all angles and concrete, photos and paint, are a maze of intriguing perspectives. They show the drama, the danger, and the quiet of the city, softened only by the presence of the sleek black cat. [Black Cat is] a potent combination of modern art, photography, rhythm, and words.
Hazel Rochman (review date 15 May 2000)
SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Wings, by Christopher Myers. Booklist 96, no. 18 (15 May 2000): 1754.
Ages 4-9. [InWings ] Myers retells the myth of Icarus through the story of Ikarus Jackson, the new boy on the block, who can fly above the rooftops and over the crowd. In this contemporary version, the winged kid nearly falls from the sky, not because he flies too high and dares to go too near the sun, but because jeering kids in the schoolyard and repressive adults don't like his being different and try to break his soaring spirit. Even more than inBlack Cat (1999), Myers's beautiful cut-paper collages are eloquent and open. Some urban scenes are like the elemental silhouettes in cave paintings. Some are rich and elaborate, with fluid aerial perspectives that change the way we see streets and people. Then there are the images of constraint and attack: the bullies like a monstrous Hydra with many heads; the schoolyard like a fiery sun; Ikarus's wings caught in jagged barbed wire near the classroom blackboard. In one view, he is struggling to stay in the air above oceans and continents, and in the corner of the page is a photo of derelict rowboats. The narrator of the spare text is a lonely girl, a golden figure in most of the pictures, who is reaching for the boy in flight. When she finally finds the courage to stand up to the bullies, she tells Ikarus he's beautiful and gives him the strength to fly free. The resolution is a little neat, but there's so much to talk about here—the multiple meanings of the pictures, the transformation of the myth, the hero outsider.
Khafre F. Abif (review date September 2000)
SOURCE: Abif, Khafre F. Review of Wings, by Christopher Myers. Black Issues Book Review 2, no. 5 (September 2000): 80.
The celebrated and award-wining author/illustrator, Christopher Myers, shares his hopes for young children. His past works includeHarlem, a Caldecott Honor Book, andBlack Cat, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and an American Library Association Notable Book. Myers' display of talent and energy has uplifted and helped urban children to visualize their own surroundings and circumstances as a large canvas upon which to create a new and different world.
InWings his newest effort, Myers wanted "to create a book that tells kids never to abandon the things that make them different, to be proud of what makes them unique." He believes that every child has their own beauty and talents. As Myers continues to write and develop stories that combine his message of empowerment with the art of his beautiful illustrations, our children will be well served. Standing firm on the conscious thought guiding his work,Wings offers a thought-provoking story to which all children can relate. Myers introduces Ikarus Jackson, the new boy on the block. Ikarus has wings and can fly above the rooftops. Ikarus displays great pride in his wings until the staring, snickering and giggles spread across the playground. Ikarus' story explores the feelings of loneliness that occur when our differences are pointed out in a negative way and offers a profound lesson about differences and individuality. Share this lesson with your children, and encourage them, as Myers hopes, "to find their own wings and soar with him."
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 11 September 2000)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of Wings, by Christopher Myers. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 37 (11 September 2000): 90.
Once again demonstrating a masterful use of collage, Myers (Black Cat ) imaginatively refutes the myth of Icarus and champions the nature of the artist [in Wings ]. A watchful girl, ostracized by her peers for her quiet nature, narrates the story of her blossoming friendship with a new neighbor, Ikarus Jackson, whose "long, strong, proud wings followed wherever he went." Ikarus initially walks (and flies) with confidence in his red T-shirt and blue shorts, but slowly loses steam as first the students, then his teacher, and finally a policeman all criticize his unique appearance. Always depicted as a yellow silhouetted figure gracefully cut from a single piece of paper, the girl sympathizes with the hero and completes Ikarus's medley of red and blue. In this way, Myers ingeniously allows readers to identify with the narrator, admiring Ikarus's beauty of flight and individual expression. The artwork isolates and reworks elements of the myth: In the valley of Ikarus's dejection ("He struggled to stay in the air. His wings dropped and his head hung low"), the boy seems to be plummeting toward an expanse of water. In the climax, as the policeman yells at Ikarus and the neighbors "explode with laughter," Myers superimposes the boy's figure over a scene of a forest fire, and the narrator reaches out to Ikarus from across the gutter. She, too, seems to be aflame against a backdrop of swirling water—and breaks her silence for the first time, "'Stop!' I cried. 'Leave him alone'": Myers indicates that one person appreciating another's true qualities makes life complete: the two friends seem to dance—he in the air, she on the ground—as their unique colors and shapes create a unified whole. Ages 7-up.
BLUES JOURNEY (2003)
Ilene Cooper (review date 15 February 2003)
SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. Review of Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Booklist 99, no. 12 (15 February 2003): 1082.
Gr. 5-8. The blues' deceptively simple rhyme scheme tracks the deeper feelings of lives that have been bruised. In this picture book for older readers, [Walter] Myers offers blues-inspired verse that touches on the black-and-blue moments of individual lives. His son Christopher's images, which illustrate the call-and-response text, alternate between high spirited and haunting. Myers begins with a very necessary introduction to the history of the blues that includes an explanation of the rhyme scheme. Still, the level of sophistication necessary for kids to get into the book is considerable: "Strange fruit hanging, high in the big oak tree / Strange fruit hanging high in the big oak tree / You can see what it did to Willie, / and you see what it did to me." Myers' original verse is unsettling if young people know the reference from the Billie Holiday song, but unclear if they don't ("strange fruit" is defined in the glossary). The accompanying illustration, though it's one of the less inspired ones, helps clarify things—a boy walks in a crowd carrying a sign saying, "yesterday a man was lynched." But there's no cohesion between the spreads, and the next one features a blues singer at a mike: "The thrill is gone, but love is still in my heart . . . I can feel you in the music and it's tearing me apart." Much of Myers' poetry here is terrific, by turn, sweet, sharp, ironic, but it's the memorable collage artwork, executed in the bluest of blue ink and brown paper, that will draw readers first. Once inside [Blues Journey ], some children will immediately hear the songs the poetry sings; others will have to listen more closely.
Publishers Weekly (review date 3 March 2003)
SOURCE: Review of Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 9 (3 March 2003): 74.
This handsomely designed volume [Blues Journey ] by the father-and-son creators ofHarlem succeeds as an introduction to the blues genre but lacks a story line to unify the disparate verses. The author begins with a history of the blues, tracing its roots to Africa and describing its metamorphosis in America, as freed captives began to explore lyrics fully and white musicians became influenced by the musical form. He explains that the first two lines represent a call, and the third is the response. In one of the most effective spreads, Walter Dean Myers subtly alters the repetition of the call to chilling effect: "My landlord's cold, cold as a death row shave / My landlord's so cold, cold as a death row shave / Charged fifty cents for a washtub, three dollars for my grave." Opposite, Christopher Myers uses blue ink and white paint on brown bags to depict two boys looking out one side of a window, one peering fearfully around the corner, the other holding up his hand, perhaps in protection, perhaps in an attempt to escape. The sides of the window and a collage screen create a sense of imprisonment. But a few juxtapositions are jarring, such as a portrait of a boy reading with a stately, elderly woman appearing over his shoulder, while the verse seems to indicate a romantic sentiment ("I hollered to my woman, she was across the way / I said I loved her truly, she said, / 'It got to be that way'"). All ages. (Mar.)
Wendy Lukehart (review date April 2003)
SOURCE: Lukehart, Wendy. Review of Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. School Library Journal 49, no. 4 (April 2003): 188.
Gr 4 Up—"Blues . . . what you mean to me? / . . . Are you my pain and misery, / or my sweet, sweet company?" The opening verse of this latest father/son collaboration [Blues Journey ] probes the very essence of a form—and a feeling; it asks the question that anyone who has sought solace in music can relate to. The pair's first composition wandered through a Harlem collage (Scholastic, 1997), depicting ". . . a call, a song . . . the mood indigo . . . a language of darkness. . . ." This new duet is the blues: verbally and visually, it explores the idiom while exemplifying it. A call and response accompanies each painting. The poetry is given a variety of voices by the ever-changing cast and settings: three figures in a horse-drawn cart on a lonely road; two children sitting on a curb—one crying, the other comforting; workers in a chain gang; a brother and sister sharing a bed, head to toe. The tightly controlled, yet endlessly surprising palette consists of blue (ink), white (paint), and brown (paper bags). Many of the bodies and backgrounds are literally blue, with white highlights. This chilling effect is tempered by the warm texture of the brown bags. As the journey progresses, the lyrics and art look at loss through the lenses of slavery, poverty, lynching, love spurned, fear of dying—and of living. An author's note provides a lucid description of the history, elements, and importance of the blues. Symbolism is explored in a glossary. Artist and author push the idiom—and the picture book—to new dimensions. Their song will slide through readers' ears and settle into their souls.
Roger Sutton (review date May-June 2003)
SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 3 (May-June 2003): 363.
In this collection of original poems, [Walter] Myers makes the traditional three-line blues song look something like America's answer to haiku: "The thrill is gone, but love's still got my heart / The thrill is gone, baby, but love's still got my heart / I can feel you in this music, and it's tearing me apart." Along with the time-honored love-gone-wrong motif, Myers's blues extend themselves to themes of racism, loneliness, slavery, and just plain hard luck: "If you see a dollar, tell it my full name / . . . Say I'm being sociable, and it can do the same." Although there is no real sequence [inBlues Journey ], the poems, for the most part one to each double-page spread, move gracefully from misery to misery, with just enough self-mockery to lighten the darkness. Similarly, Christopher Myers's illustrations (in "blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags") bear suggestive rather than literal connections to the poems, with yearning figures bringing lonesome all across the pages, which are impressively composed and imaginatively varied in design. You'll have to make up the tunes, but Myers pere et fils are so deeply immersed in the rhythms and idioms of the blues that the music will seem to come right out of you in response—just the way these songs got started in the first place.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date June 2003)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 56, no. 10 (June 2003): 415.
[InBlues Journey, Walter] Myers' blues rhapsody is a meandering riff on the heartbreak and joys of life, using traditional blues forms (the call and response pattern) and classic images ("Strange fruit hanging, high in a big oak tree"). Christopher Myers' use of blue ink, brown paper bags, and white paint as the medium for his blue and brown illustrations is a subtle yet thematically effective choice, emphasizing the connections between the blues tradition and the African-American experience. The texture provided by the paper-bag canvas infuses the illustrations with an intense dimensionality reinforced by the broodingly blue figures and the highlights of white that enhance eyes, skies, and other elements. Despite the occasional lack of narrative continuity, the text and the images are a powerful and resonant pair; while the connections between the two are not always immediately apparent, that subtlety provides the necessary pause for reflection demanded by this challenging work. An introduction explains the history and technical components of blues music, including a clear, accessible description of the scale usually used in blues melodies and of the call and response form of the lyrics. A timeline at the conclusion chronicles the development of the blues in the United States; a glossary explains some of the dual meanings of phrases in the text.
Laura Foner (review date January-February 2004)
source: foner, laura. review of blues journey, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. horn book magazine 80, no. 1 (january-february 2004): 16.
Father and son Walter Dean and Christopher Myers have produced another powerful collaboration that defies categories [inBlues Journey ]. It is an education about the blues form, with a history, timeline, and glossary of terms. It is a journey through African-American history, evoking experiences of slave ships, chain gangs, lynchings, tenant farming, and urban poverty. It is a celebration of the spirit of survival, showing us a unique American musical art form, the blues, which grew from daily suffering. It is a book of blues lyrics, each one a call-and-response poem, accompanied by blue and brown images so moving they brought tears to my eyes.
A TIME TO LOVE: STORIES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT (2003)
Publishers Weekly (review date 31 March 2003)
source: review of a time to love: stories from the old testament, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. publishers weekly 250, no. 13 (31 march 2003): 64.
The father-and-son team behind the Caldecott Honor bookHarlem recasts a half dozen episodes from the Bible [inA Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament ] with teen narrators, giving the audience new ways of viewing age-old stories. Assuming the perspectives of supporting players—including some traditionally viewed as evildoers—author and artist throw the characters' human frailties into high relief.
The Philistine Delilah takes on a kind of nobility in the opening story; the author portrays her as a 15-year-old torn between love for the Israelite Samson and love for her people. Against blood-red backdrops, Christopher Myers draws intimate black-and-white pencil portraits of the couple, the close-up of the blinded Samson conveying both strength and vulnerability. Gaining readers' empathy, Walter Dean Myers selects the most compassionate of Joseph's 11 brothers, Reuben, to describe his brothers' vengeful reactions to their father's favoring of Joseph and to Joseph's prideful nature. The dramatic collage cover image, taken from "Reuben and Joseph," depicts the moment of forgiveness: Joseph's arms envelop all 11 brothers, two of whom turn away, and one of whom—Reuben—cries. Perhaps the most powerful of the six tales is Isaac's narration of his journey up the mountain with his father, as the boy first believes that his father will make a sacrifice of himself and gradually realizes that he, Isaac, is the sacrifice.
The design ensures that the look of the volume matches the contemporary and accessible qualities of the prose. Display type in a distinctly 20th-century font immediately marks the work as modern. Christopher Myers uses up-to-the-minute techniques, too; for example, a contemporary photograph is the focus of each of the mixed-media chapter openers. He applies a different style to the illustrations for each tale (photocollage for the story of Lot, Egyptian-like drawings for the plagues, etc.). This fresh aesthetic approach underscores the collection's implicit message: there are numberless ways to behold sacred stories. Ages 12-up.
Patricia D. Lathrop (review date May 2003)
source: lathrop, patricia d. review of a time to love: stories from the old testament, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. school library journal 49, no. 5 (may 2003): 158.
Gr 7 Up—These stories from the Hebrew scriptures [inA Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament ] tell familiar tales of Samson, Joseph, Ruth, Abraham, Lot, and Moses. The first-person narrators, however, are usually secondary characters: when Delilah tells the story, its focus shifts in an interesting way, to explore human love and betrayal. Just before the Exodus, the speaker is a boy whose best friend is a firstborn Egyptian who does not survive the last plague. Reuben tells how their betrayal of Joseph ("whose coat is not 11 many-colored") affects the loyal brothers. Lot's youngest daughter reveals her disillusionment with her father. (Isaac, a bit less convincingly, increases his faith in his father, even as he is bound on the altar.) The artwork, in various media, is variously successful. The quasi-Egyptian illustrations are delightful, the pencil drawings for Samson are accomplished, and the silhouette/collage pictures for Joseph are especially effective at suggesting the wider applications of the story. However, the artist's decision to depict Ruth, Naomi, and Oprah as black women sits oddly with the setting in Moab/Judah, and Lot's daughters have South Indian dress and features while their mother appears to be African. The reflections of [Walter] Myers and his sons on their own spiritual journeys, in supplementary essays, add a worthwhile personal dimension to this contemporary effort at midrash.
Elizabeth Bush (review date September 2003)
source: bush, elizabeth. review of a time to love: stories from the old testament, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. bulletin of the center for children's books 57, no. 1 (september 2003): 26.
The Myerses offer a half dozen retellings of well-known Bible stories [inA Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament ], cast in the first-person narration of a major character. The tales proceed in no discernible order, leading off with Delilah's breathy musings about her betrayed lover, Samson, then back to Reuben and Joseph, further back to Isaac and Abraham, and winding up in Egypt on the eve of the Exodus with Aser and Gamiel. Stories such as Abraham's intended sacrifice cling close to Biblical events while delving into purported thoughts and motivations of individuals, in this case the befuddled victim, Isaac. Others, such as Samson and Delilah, are more fanciful and uneven; W. D. Myers limns Delilah as a shaky composite of fifteen-year-old innocent, political pawn, and remorseful lover, while C. Myers disregards the textual age setting and depicts her in the more traditional role of worldly-wise seductress. Readers well up on their Scripture will undoubtedly chuckle at Myers' genteel treatment of Lot's daughter "Zillah," who ponders the mystery of her mother's transformation into salt but throws on the literary brakes just short of seducing her father in the cave. Illustrations range wildly among staged photographs, collage, paintings, and sketches; golden wash gives the pages a faux-papyrus appearance, a curious affectation considering that Egyptian sources are maddeningly quiet on the subject of the Israelites. This is neither as gripping nor imaginative as Peter Dickinson's City of Gold or Jan Mark's God's Story (BCCB 5/98), but collections featuring a broad selection of Bible retellings may want a copy on their shelves.
beram, nell d. review of fly!, by christopher myers. horn book magazine 78, no. 2 (march-april 2002): 203.
commends the positive themes and "dazzling illustrations" in fly!
del negro, janice m. review of fly!, by christopher myers. bulletin of the center for children's books 55, no. 25 (january 2002): 180.
praises myers's passionate renderings of urban landscapes in fly!
o'malley, judy. review of monster, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. book links 9, no. 3 (january 2000): 55.
notes the "innovative format" surrounding the central mystery in monster.
salvadore, maria b. review of monster, by walter dean myers, illustrated by christopher myers. horn book magazine 786, no. 1 (january-february 2000): 42.
asserts that the ambivalence and realism of monster make the story both "disquieting" and "riveting."