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My Hands Sing the Blues

Last updated Sunday, August 7, 2022

Author: Jeanne Walker Harvey
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Date of Publication: 2011
ISBN: 0761458107
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Aug. 2022

Synopsis: As a young boy growing up in North Carolina, Romare Bearden listened to his great-grandmother's Cherokee stories and heard the whistle of the train that took his people to the North - people who wanted to be free. When Romare boarded that same train, he watched out the window as the world whizzed by. Later he captured those scenes in a famous painting, Watching the Good Trains Go By.

Using that painting as inspiration and creating a text influenced by the jazz that Bearden loved, Jeanne Walker Harvey describes the patchwork of daily southern life that Romare saw out the train's window and the story of his arrival in shimmering New York City. Artists and critics today praise Bearden's collages for their visual metaphors honoring his past, African American culture, and the human experience. Elizabeth Zunon's illustrations of painted scenes blended with collage are a stirring tribute to a remarkable artist.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  What do you think the young man is painting?
•  Do you like to paint? What have you painted in the past?


•  Collage- a piece of art created by combining photos, clippings or small objects onto a surface.
•  Canvas- a strong, coarse unbleached cloth made from hemp, flax, cotton, or a similar yarn, used to make items such as sails and tents and as a surface for oil painting
•  Roots- place of orgin for a family.
•  Porter- a person employed to carry baggage for patrons at a hotel or transportation terminal

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  What does Romare use to create his collage?
•  What does the young boy remember from his North Carolina Days?
•  Have you been on a train? where did you go? Where would you like to go?
•  What is Romare painting while he is in Harlem?

Craft ideas:
•  Easy: Play a jazz tune online. Listen to melody and have the readers draw the instruments heard in the tune. Supplies: paper, crayons and markers.
•  Medium: Get ready to make a collage of all items and objects you would see on a train ride. Cut shapes,objects and create landscapes and people you would see on your train ride. Supplies:Lots of paper different size, color and texture, markers, glue, tape and scissors.
•  Check our craft ideas on Pinterest!
including "Tips for Teaching Scissors Skills"

Special activities:
•  Zoom Scavenger Hunt: Get ready for the virtual train ride. What are you packing for your train ride? Each student will listen for the item to bring on the train ride annouced by the reader, grab the item and show case on zoom call when retrieved. Items such as your Favorite toy, book or magazine, sweater, change, sunglasses, umbrella, lotion, toothbrush etc. . .

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don't have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!