by Jan Huling
Henri Sorensen, illustrator
Inside Jacket: Ol’ Bloo Donkey has always dreamed of retiring from the cotton field to become a honky-tonk singer. But when he overhears the type of retirement plan Farmer Brown has in mind for him—of the permanent variety—he knows it’s time to it the road and pursue his ambitions of being a star. Brayin’ and hee-hawin’ his way toward the bright lights of New Orléans, Ol’ Bloo meets up with Gnarly Dog, One-Eyed Lemony Cat, and Rusty Red Rooster, all down on their luck and ready to join him for a lucrative second career. But when the quartet stumbles upon a tumbledown shack occupied by a band of thieves, their plans take a sudden and unexpected turn . . .
First Sentence: Once upon a time not so awful long ago, out where the great states of Louisiana and Texas rub shoulders, there lived a farmer who had himself a donkey.
Ol’ Bloo Donkey was a cotton-hauling donkey for many good years, but now that he’s older and slower, the farmer thinks it’s time for Ol’ Bloo to retire. Ol’ Bloo doesn’t like the farmer’s suggestion of putting him out of his misery, when he thought he deserved a nice, sweet retirement plan. So, Ol’ Bloo trotted out of the farm faster than he had all year. He decided it was high-time he became a singing star. Ol’ Bloo loved the sound of his own voice and just knew the folks in New Orléans would love his voice too. He’s walking and sing, uh, uh, a wailing and a braying, sounding like “an accordion fallin’ down a flight of stairs.”
Ol’ Bloo Donkey was not the only animal not feeling the love that day. Ol’ Bloo’s single career turned into a duet, then a trio, and finally a quartet faster than flies gather on poo, um, a litter box that ain’t been cleaned. Gnarly Dog, an old-timer traded in for a new puppy, liked the sound of his singing voice but he really, “sounded like a gui-tar bein’ scraped with a washboard.” One-Eyed Lemony Cat, who got the boot from her person, loved to wail too, though he “sounded like a fiddle bein’ played with a carvin’ knife.” Rusty Red Rooster rounded out the group. Rusty liked his tunes but he “sounded like a player piano bein’ hit with an ax.” The new group continued on their way to New Orléans, singing and dreaming of the riches their special kind of harmony was going to bring.
Ol’ Bloo and his new pals decided to settle down for the night. There was a lit cabin up ahead, so they were going to sing for their supper. Inside that cabin were some nefarious fellows. When the group made a totem pole of themselves by climbing up from Ol’ Bloo to Rusty Red, as they began to sing the crate Ol’ Bloo stood on gave way, dumping all of them into the cabin. Those criminals shot out of there, fearing for their lives, not sure what in tarnation scared them. One of them fellas went back for their loot. That didn’t go over too well cause the guy was a klutz. He hurt One-Eyed Lemony Cat’s one good eye, stepped on Gnarly Dog, then ran right into Ol’ Bloo. Once again a thief went hightailing out of that cabin, leaving the loot behind. The Band retired to that cozy cabin, singing aloud with their lovely voices, and enjoyed every minute.
This is a new version of Grimm’s Bremen Town Musicians and follows the tale fairly well. The animals have a laid back southern way about them. They have the drawl and the kindly hospitality and politeness, and even a little backward. The sounds of their voices will ring inside your head and come alive.
The illustrations are just as laid back and “southern.” Painted with oils on canvas, the scene is once bright and cherry and then silhouetted to mark forward movement in the story. Like when the farmer chases Ol’ Bloo as Bloo is running away from the farmer’s version of retirement; or when they bed down in the cabin to sleep the night away.
There is a lot of humor in Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble. The story moves along quickly, even with the higher than normal picture book word count. Then, again, this is not a young child’s picture book. This is for kids ages six to ten, not four to eight or younger. Even so, younger kids will understand enough to get a good laugh. This is a fun book to read aloud with all the twang and slanted speech. What message does it deliver? Well, it could be saying when your time is near the end, high-tail it out of where you are, before your loved ones come to kick you out or retire you. Or maybe, the message is to live your life to the fullest, no matter your age.
Boys will probably like Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble more than girls will. It speaks to the mangy side of us and boys tend to channel that better. I really don’t know. I made that up because I don’t know, but still think it’s true boys will enjoy this better than girls. I liked the story and enjoyed the illustrations. The text is what I liked best. The blended narration is laced with New Orléans southern drawl and twang. Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble, hops along at a nice beat and is fun to read.
Waiting on illustration permissions.