Posted by: Sarah Stokes | October 22, 2011

And all that Jazz ….







Ruby sings the Blues

Niki Daly, London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, pb. 978-1-84507-280-3, £5.99, 2005, 24pp.

As far as I’m concerned, any children’s picture book to promise some singing of the blues has to be worth exploring. This book, with its intriguing title, does not disappoint.

Ruby is a little girl with an enormous voice, who antagonises and frustrates all whose paths intercept her daily existence. She cannot turn down her volume, often causing others to raise theirs in order to be cross with her. Ruby’s exhausted teacher tries every strategy she can think of, as do her parents, to help her tone down her sounds to a more acceptable volume. But nothing seems to work. Even Ruby’s friends despair and finally leave her out of their games altogether. The vicious cycle of noise and disruption is set.

For all, except Bernard and Zelda, the jazz musicians who live in the basement apartment of Ruby’s building. “Awesome!” they croon, as they listen to Ruby letting her family know, at ultimate volume, that she has arrived home from school.

Under the jazz impresarios’ tutelage, Ruby embarks on a series of singing lessons to train her voice and use it to its full soulful potential. Zelda helps her with her breathing and volume control, while Bernard uses his saxophone to help her develop her ear for music. Between them, they manage to transform Ruby from an exhorbitantly loud speaker into a beguiling singer of the blues.

This book is a delight, both narratively and visually. The pages teem with references to high culture, from the stylish clothes worn by the characters to the art work in Ruby’s parents’ apartment. Ultimately, the idea that what was once seen as an unfortunate character flaw can be turned into something of great beauty and passion, should be an inspiration to all who read this book.

The only thing it lacks, perhaps, is a CD soundtrack of the types of music in which Ruby excels, as this is undoubtedly a book for reading aloud, while celebrating the emotional range of what the musical blues have to offer. Much as Ruby’s performance at her school concert, with Bernard and Zelda alongside her, this book really is “… well, just AWESOME.”


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