Here is a great review for my latest book My Aunt Came Back from Louisiane:
Downing combines music and writing in winning way
By JUDY BERGERON
News Features staff writer
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA
Published: Sep 21, 2008 - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
Johnette Downing’s children’s books come from her music for children, which in turn comes from her love of Louisiana, its music and its children. As a singer, songwriter, musician and author, Downing says she puts a little Louisiana spice in everything she creates, her latest project the children’s book My Aunt Came Back from Louisiane.
The book takes its title and inspiration from the song, “My Aunt Came Back,” often heard around Girl Scout campfires. In the traditional version, the aunt travels around the world, bringing back gifts from exotic countries. Downing has narrowed the scope of her adaptation to Louisiana’s boundaries.
“I thought this would be a good geography book for our children in Louisiana and I’m sort of like the aunt in the book because I bring my nieces and nephews back things from all over Louisiana,” Downing said.
Written in simple rhyming verse, the aunt travels to different Louisiana towns and cities, always bringing back a sample of something the area is noted for: red beans from New Orleans, file gumbo from Thibodaux, crawfish stew from ’ti Mamou. Young children can easily read or sing along, learning little tidbits as they go. At the back of the book is a word map, giving pronunciations for some of the more difficult towns mentioned, with explanations for the foods, or in a few cases, musical instruments they’re associated with. The sheet music for the adapted song follows.
In synch with the simplicity of the text are the illustrations, which Downing created herself. Deborah Kadair had illustrated Downing’s first two children’s books, Today is Monday in Louisiana and Down in Louisiana, but encouraged her colleague to try this one on her own. “This is my normal format, collage. It’s childlike, children can relate to it. It’s cut foam and construction paper, which gives it that soft quality,” Downing said. The brightly-hued illustrations clearly identify the subjects, without bogging down the young readers with a lot of intricate detail.
Downing, who lives in Uptown New Orleans, has been catering to a young audience for years, since leaving a folk band to devote herself full-time to Louisiana music for children.
“It’s been such a wonderful thing. My whole career has been organic,” she said, adding that a friend encouraged her career change, saying she would be good with kids. First performing her songs around Louisiana, she soon went national, and eventually, landed an appearance in Puerto Rico.
Someone from Costa Rica saw the show and booked her for an event there. Then it was on to Guatemala and Egypt. In all, she’s now performed in 11 countries. “That is the great thing about Louisiana music. People all over the world know about our music and our culture and when I travel to other countries they want me to do my Louisiana music for children and they want me to bring my instruments that are from Louisiana and I bring all my books and they just love Louisiana culture. And it’s so nice because that’s who I am, you know, that’s what I do.”
Downing said her music is inspired by Dixieland jazz, jazz, Cajun, Creole and zydeco music. Her parents were both musicians and singers at their church, and Downing said she grew up performing. Downing dedicated her new book to her mother, who died last year.
“In memory of my mother, who always had a song in her heart and a child on her knee,” the dedication reads.
Like mother, like daughter, it seems.