Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Singing the Praises of a Local Hero - Hosea Plays On

I am so excited to share a new picture book hitting the shelves this week -- Hosea Plays On by a wonderful friend, author Kathleen M. Blasi, and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. The story is based on the life of Hosea Missouri Taylor, a beloved musician and community activist in Rochester, New York. 

Recently, I asked Kathy what drew her to the story. She said, "I learned of Hosea Taylor when I read a newspaper article about him when he passed away. Had this been a standard obituary, I never would have noticed, so I credit Sarah Taddeo of the Democrat & Chronicle for spotlighting the work, advocacy, and impact Hosea had on the Rochester community. When I learned of his connection to and outreach with children, I thought I could find that nugget to tell a story for young readers."

That nugget or heart of the story is what transforms a "local" tale into a book that resonates with a larger audience. You don't have to be a Rochester resident to love Hosea.  From the bright colors on the cover to the author's note in the back, this is a gem.  And yet it is the simplicity of the story that I marvel at. Kathy captures Hosea's spirit by walking the reader through one typical day in Hosea's life. 

But that seemingly simple structure took hard work. "My first draft was the story of a fictitious grandfather (Poppy) and granddaughter (Georgia) who routinely visited the market," Kathy said. "The story was more about them, their interactions with various vendors, and how Hosea’s music bridged a connection to Georgia’s grandmother, who was sorely missed. But in that version, Hosea was not a focal point. So then I tried writing parallel narratives—Hosea and Poppy/Georgia—which eventually intersect. There was a lot of back and forth with those versions, and it felt like I was trying to cover too much ground. So, I decided to take out Poppy and Georgia, and keep the camera solely on Hosea. That’s the version that caught [the publisher's] eye. A-day-in-the life with characters who represent the spirit of the market and community afforded me the means to convey his impact in the space of a picture book."

A great tip for anyone writing a picture book -- Keep your lens tightly focused. 

Sometimes that means you have to leave information out. "One story I learned that did not make it into the story ," Kathy said, "was of the young daughter of a Market vendor, who placed coins in his saxophone case as he played. At end of his session, Hosea secretly returned the money to the little girl’s mother."  Even without this tender anecdote, the reader feels Hosea's generosity. 

Kathy hooks the reader on the first page when she writes, "Maybe--just maybe-- he would earn enough money." Enough money for what? We wonder. The mystery is soon resolved in a heart-warming ending. In between, the text sings with sound. From the ka-plink of coins to the smokey notes of Hosea's sax.  Hosea Plays On begs to be read aloud. 

January 11, 2020 at the City of Rochester Public Market from 9-12.  
280 Union St N, Rochester, NY 14609

February 17th, 6 pm, at the Arnett Public Library 
10 Arnett Blvd, Rochester, NY 14619 (listen to some of the musicians who played with Hosea) 

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