History Book Review: When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Instead of trying to tell the main character’s whole life story, this engaging picture book focuses on Marian Anderson’s singing. Readers follow Marian’s development from a young girl singing in her church to a professional performer. Elements of Marian’s personal life are only included if they influenced her singing. For example, we learn that Marian’s father died in an accident because his passing filled Marian’s voice with sadness.

From the illustrations the reader knows that Marian is African American, but she isn’t discriminated against until she tries to apply to a music school. While waiting in line, she hears the person behind the counter blurt out “We don’t take colored!” Despite this setback, Marian took private music lessons. She became a popular performer throughout the U.S. Still, she still had to travel in railroad cars that were separate and dirtier than the ones reserved for white people.

The most obvious example of discrimination came in 1939 when Marian attempted to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The manager refused and said only whites could perform there. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard about this, she publicly resigned from the organization that sponsored the hall. With the permission of President Franklin Roosevelt, Marian got to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. Her encore performance of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” silenced the crowd of 75,000 people.

256px-Marian_Anderson_-_NARA_-_559192

Painting of Marian Anderson by Betsy Graves Reyneau

Though Marian is portrayed as a determined person, the author also makes her human. For example, Marian was often nervous before her performances and sometimes sang with her eyes closed. Anyone who ever gave a presentation at school or work can relate to how Marian felt. Not everyone gets to study music in Europe as Marian did, but readers can still understand Marian’s homesickness.

The author points out that even though Marian was determined to achieve her dream of someday singing at the Metropolitan Opera, she had help along the way. Marian’s mother encouraged her to continue her private lessons when her daughter was rejected by the music school.

Famous music teacher Giuseppe Boghetti was less concerned with Marian’s skin color than with her talent. He told her that after two years with him, she would be able to sing anywhere. In addition, Marian’s church community helped out by paying for her lessons with Boghetti.

At the end of the story, Marian finally realizes her dream of singing for the Metropolitan Opera. She had to wait 16 years after her performance at the Lincoln Memorial, however. Readers can takeaway from this book that dreams can come true, but it might take time and some support from other people to accomplish them.

The back of the book contains a helpful timeline of important events in Marian’s life, including those the story doesn’t cover. I was disappointed that the CD that came with the book did not include Marian’s voice (it’s a narration of the book), but the bibliography says where readers can find recordings of her performances. Unfortunately the bibliography is hidden in the author’s notes at the back of the book, making it somewhat difficult to find.

In summary, this book does a wonderful job of introducing kids  and adults to a courageous African American woman who realized her dreams despite some people’s prejudices.

2 thoughts on “History Book Review: When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s