Double Bass Blues

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Double Bass Blues Book Poster Image
Gorgeous story of a boy's excellence and the power of music.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows how love of music and practice can lead to excellence in an instrument. And how doing somehting well can give you a joyous sense of achievement. 

Positive Messages

Music can change your life. Sometimes you have to work really hard to get better at doing what you love. Be determined in your pursuit of your dreams. Take comfort in family members/adults who love and understand you. The stresses of the day can be released by doing something creative.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nic, who's Black, is a talented, determined, and joyful main character. He gracefully navigates bullies, growling dogs, and tired commuters, and uses the sounds of his rough travels as he plays. He has a racially and gender diverse group of admiring classmates at his suburban school (and a Black woman orchestra teacher). Nic's supportive grandfather and the grandfather's friends are all Black. Background characters on the bus and streets are also diverse.

Violence & Scariness

In one illustration, a stylized angry dog bares its teeth and growls at Nic and his bass. The image may scare very young or sensitive readers. Bus passengers and passersby tease and bully Nic for his school uniform tie and the large size of his double bass.

Language

Sonone calls Nic a "chump." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Andrea J. Loney's Double Bass Blues, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, won a 2020 Caldecott Honor. It's a sparely worded, sound-heavy, boldly colored picture book that speaks volumes. Nic, a talented young double bass player has a long, rough, commute from his suburban school, where he's admired for his musicianship, back into the city, where he lives and his granddaddy waits. Nic's determination, grace, and, ultimately, joy, as expressed in the immersive art, will engage readers of all ages. Nic's classmates are racially and gender diverse, though the SUVs lined up on the road outside school suggests a lack of economic diversity. Background characters on his journey home are also a mixed crowd, while Nic, his grandfather, and the grandfather's friends are all Black. The language is very mild, with some teasing, and a bully calls Nic a "chump." With its expansive pictures, accessible text, and affirming messages, this is a book young kids will enjoy.

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What's the story?

In DOUBLE BASS BLUES, Nic shines as young musician with visible talent: eyes closed, head leaned into the neck of his double bass, slight smile on his lips as he plays. After his fellow orchestra members congratulate him for an "epic solo" during practice, he heads off, massive bass bag slung over his shoulder, for a long commute from his suburban school into the city. A threatening dog, bullies, plunking rain, whooshing windshield wipers, and other sounds and stressors might be enough to ruin any other kid's glow, but not for Nic. They all get channeled into his art at his final destination, where he finds refuge in family, and, again, music.

Is it any good?

This powerful book beautifully honors determination, making music, and Black boyhood. Nic's journey in Double Bass Blues is thrilling to watch unfold. As he walks, buses, and walks again to get into the city, Nic gracefully shrugs off bullies, keeps the sounds of the rain and windshield wipers in his head, and walks up stairway after stairway with that heavy bass. His arrival in the arms of his granddaddy is a long sigh of relief, and the realization that Nic is not the first musician in his bloodline to a refuge built of family, music and love.

With only about 30 words and 13 lines of dialogue, Rudy Gutierrez's stunning art does a lot of the story's heavy lifting. His swooping curved lines and sharp jagged edges evoke the different moods of Nic's journey. And the way Nic's face and hair coloring changes slightly from spread to spread captures the beauty of Blackness. This book is bursting with music, dedication, the importance of family, and Black excellence. Young readers will be able to connect on one or more levels, but this wonderful boy with his beloved bass is bound to steal the hearts of all. Don't miss this book; it's a keeper.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what music means to Nic in Double Bass Blues. How do we know how Nic feels about playing his double bass? How does Nic use different elements of his journey to the city in the music he plays for his granddaddy? In what ways can you use music or art to handle big emotions?

  • What do you do that helps you get through a hard day or a problem?

  • How do the pictures tell the story? Do you think the illustrations or the words are more important in this book? Why?

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