Sunday, May 16, 2010
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson
Written by: Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by: Brian Selznick
Recommended Ages: 7-12
This is a big, beautiful picture book biography about the legendary singer Marian Anderson. It tells the story of the little girl with the "strong and velvety" voice who rose to become one of the most decorated and honored singers in the world, while racism and segregation formed the backdrop to her life.
Marian Anderson was born in 1897 in South Philadelphia. Her musical talents were recognized early on and she performed in local churches, and then in Philadelphia's celebrated People's Chorus. Music meant everything to Marian, and she was determined to go to music school. At eighteen, she applied but was told, "We don't take colored" from the receptionist at the front desk. So she continued to work hard on her own, taking lessons where she could to improve her skills.
Finally in 1927, she decided to go to Europe where other African Americans had gone. Here she discovered success, as Europe was much more progressive than the United States. She was able to sing to mixed audiences and travel without all of the restrictions she had previously faced. She accomplished much overseas, and was beloved wherever she toured.
However, when she returned to the U.S. in 1939, she discovered that things hadn't really changed. The book then tells the remarkable story of how she came to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. After being denied access to Constitution Hall, people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes took a stand for Marian in a time of deep racial segregation. Permission was eventually given for her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial, and when she sang on that Easter Sunday, it was to 75,000 people of all races.
When Marian Sang is a powerful book to read to elementary school-aged kids. For although it paints a picture of an America tinged with racism and prejudice, it also shows how the arts can transcend and overcome these obstacles. Marian Anderson's story should be told over and over again.
BookNosher Activities: There are a lot of "teachable moments" in this book. First of all, you can link to see the letter of resignation that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to the Daughter's of the American Revolution when they refused to allow Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall. To get a visual understanding of her life, here's a link to photos. Finally, here's a You Tube video showing Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial singing My Country Tis of Thee.
BookNosher Tidbit: When Marian Sang won the following awards:
Parents Choice Award Winner (Gold Award, picture book, ages 6-10)
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
ALA Sibert Honor Award, ALA Notable Book
2003 Orbis Pictus Winner for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
Vermont Center for the Book's Best of Beyond Difference 2003
2003 NCTE Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts
2003 Jefferson Cup Honor, Virginia Library Association