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When Marian Sang

Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2002. WHEN MARIAN SANG: THE TRUE RECITAL OF MARIAN ANDERSON: THE VOICE OF A CENTURY. Ill. by Brian Selznick. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0439269679.

In clear and concise prose, Ryan tells with seeming reverence the story of the life of Marian Anderson from her girlhood days to her triumphant appearance at the Metropolitan Opera. Along this journey, she uses the life of Anderson to also tell important parts of the struggle for Civil Rights, such as the Jim Crow laws and Dr. King's March on Washington. But the majority of the focus is on the life of Anderson and the many thoughts and emotions she had as she navigated these turbulent times as one of the world's foremost contraltos.

An interesting aspect of Ryan's text is the technique of interspersing relevant song lyrics throughout the story. The chosen lyrics fit well with different turns in Anderson's life story, and it almost seems as if the reader can hear Anderson using her music to comfort and encourage herself through the words of the songs. The lyrics are set in italics, and this further sets them apart from the storyline.

As much as Ryan's writing is concise yet emotion-filled, Selznick's sepia-toned illustrations are majestic and also extend Ryan's prose. The paintings dominate the pages and reveal both Anderson's life and also scenes from this period in history. A scene depicting Marian's concert at the Lincoln memorial from the perspective of the crowd gives the reader a sense of the awe of this historic day. His paintings are detailed, his faces are emotion-filled, and it is only through his notes at the conclusion of the story that we learn that they also include hidden symbols from both Anderson's and Selznick's life.

Although it is clear throughout the text that Ryan and Selznick have researched the story of Marian Anderson, it is the Encore at the conclusion of the story that allows the reader to see just how thoroughly Anderson's life was investigated. Written in a small typeface by the author and illustrator, this section gives older readers more specifics details of Anderson's life and reveals the history behind the writing of this book. The authors also recount several trips they made to important places in Anderson's life, such as her childhood home and the Metropolitan Opera, which further lend authenticity to the text and drawings. Two other informative sections are also included at the conclusion - "Notable Dates" and "Selected Discography."

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Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University