When Marian Sang

Title: When Marian Sang:The True Recital of Marian Anderson | Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan | Illustrator: Brian Selznick | Publisher: Scholastic Press | Date of Publication: 2002 | ISBN: 978-0439-26967-4 | Number of pages: 40 | Grade Level: Pre-School-3 | Literary Trends: Spotlight on Diversity, Tough Girls, Intriguing Non Fiction

Ryan, P.M. (2002). When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

“Audiences heard not only words, but feelings too: spirited worship, tender affection, and nothing short of joy.”

        Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of 30 plus books for children presents in a masterfully illustrated and printed book, the life of Marian Anderson, the world famous opera singer. Illustrated by Brian Selznick, When Marian Sang provides young readers with the intimate details of the childhood of a young African American girl, who is blessed with a singing voice and a supportive community that allows her to nurture her gift. Quickly, young Marian is heralded as a divine talent in her church going community and is invited to neighboring communities to share her talents. In a type of early 20th century crowd-sourcing campaign, her community is determined to see to Marian’s dreams and pledge to gather funds for her music education. In this historical account of Jim Crow era America, young readers how are studying African American history will discover the sorrows that African American’s encountered and be delighted to watch Marian’s assent to the highest stages of the world despite of the troubling segregation she faced with in her native country.

        The narrative of When Marian Sang is delicately accompanied by rich sepia-toned panoramas and close-up depictions of Marian in her deep meditative singing pose. The title page of the book acts as a type playbill for the life story of Marian and the books adds a wordless opening page that shows Marian’s neighborhood as a backdrop set inside a grand opera house, that is later to be revealed as the Metropolitan. Carefully placed lyrical interludes are inserted into the narrative that reflect her life story, and the author and illustrator take their time to display Marian’s deep dedication to her talent. Young readers will be introduced to opera vocabulary and lyrics from some of the early 20th century’s musical masterpieces. With its dedication to detail, it is unfortunate that this book does not have a compact disc to accompany it as readers will likely want to hear “the voice of the century” upon finishing the book. Thankfully there is an abundance of archival footage of her work available online and families will delight in exploring her work further as her voice comes alive once again for a new generation and a “Encore” offers a closer look at the historical details during Marian’s life.

        Kirkus Review gravitates towards the strong visual element and rhythm of the text and describes the work of Ryan and Selznick as a “magical collaboration” and gives rightful credit to Ryan’s attempt to make Anderson’s life “accessible” to young children. Publishers Weekly also strongly attaches the visual elements of the book to its success and points out that key moments in Anderson’s life are allowed to glow and “shimmer with emotion” and gives praise to Selznick’s “range of shading (that is) as versatile as Anderson’s three-octave voice.” Indeed, When Marian Sang is not likely meant to be a casual read, readers will likely be deeply moved as they turn each page and wonder what other golden voices are yet to be heard.


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