c.2021, Neal Porter Books, Holiday House
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor
Sometimes, when you’re feeling just a little bit sad, humming a song can help.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it doesn’t even have to have words. Just a little bit of song, quietly to yourself, can make things seem better. Maybe one certain tune always makes you smile or, as in the new book Song for Jimi by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Edel Rodriguez, it can be an entire riff on a “git-tar.”
It was the fall of 1942, and Johnny Allen Hendrix had just made his debut.
Johnny was his name at first, anyway, until his Daddy changed it to “James” when the boy was three years old. By then, “Jimmy” was used to the way things were at home: his parents drank too much and fought even more. Jimmy kept to himself and rarely spoke.
When his mother finally had enough of it, she left and that was even worse.
“Jimmy lived the blues,” so he taught himself to strum an old broom like it was a real “git-tar.” Eventually, he found a “worn-out, beat-up” ukulele and though he was “born lefty,” he learned to play it, left-handed and right-handed.
Finally, at age 16, Jimmy got his first real guitar, and it made him very happy! Still, it wasn’t enough: Jimmy wasn’t very good in school and a teacher told him to “give up on his dream” and buckle down. He didn’t listen; instead, he worked and practiced and worked harder, until local bands began to hire him and everybody knew his name.
They knew his sound, too. Jimmy’s guitar was loud and it screamed with a sound like none other. He kept that sound when he went into the Army. He kept it while in the military. He made his guitar speak “like a bird learning to tweet.”
And one day, after he’d changed his name and changed it again, Jimi Hendrix reached his dream: he was invited to play in a place called Monterey, where he “showed the world how to kiss the sky.”
Here’s a bit of advice: before you read Song for Jimi aloud, look at it first.
The story jangles with a kind of jerky beat that feels like a loose-limbed dude walking down a summer sidewalk. It’s a poem, but not quite; a song, but not entirely; a biography, but more. And it’s longer than your usual picture book, word-wise. These are all things that adults will enjoy because author Charles R. Smith Jr. tells a good story and artist Edel Rodriguez adds literal color to the tale.
But will kids like it?
Meh. The length is one issue; the relevance is another, since most picture-book audiences (in this case, 7-to-12-year-olds) are likely too young for Jimi Hendrix. In the end, any enjoyment may depend not on the tale itself, but how it’s read aloud.
Give it a try once before you give it to your child. Jangle with the story properly, and Song for Jimi may make your child sing.