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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Rhythm Ride

9781596439733_p0_v2_s118x184No one’s commented in surprise to the presence of RHYTHM RIDE on our shortlist, but it is rare that we include a title that we haven’t posted on yet. This year’s early schedule and the intensity of recent discussion threw some things a little out of whack, so let’s get back on track.

It’s hard to read Andrea Davis Pinkney’s RHYTHM RIDE without moving your body.  Her narrative device–the voice called simply “the Groove”–sets the reader into a vehicle with the sound cranked up, tuning attention to the story in image, in sound, in feeling.  What would otherwise have been a fairly straightforward narrative demands the reader’s engagement, even as the voice tunes in and out and in again. Readers are treated to a pretty quick trip through Motown history, really just tickling the surface, yet getting an immediate sense of what made Motown a revolutionary sound, that song that makes you sit up and listen, speaking a musical and emotional truth you’d been waiting to hear.

In its brevity, I sense this narrative glosses over some points that some readers might appreciate better developed, and yet I keep coming back to the tone set by the Groove, the promise this is a “ride,” a tour, a beginning.   Taking readers briskly to a close and providing plenty of notes and songs for them to explore makes me feel Pinkney delivers exactly what she promises to, singularly.


Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Just started this and am loving “the Groove.”

  2. I loooove Motown and had missed this book, which I’m just about to begin . Thanks so much for pointing me toward it, as well as to “My Seneca Village” , with its glorious lines like “I find myself the owner of one me.”

  3. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m happy to hear that many people are seeking this one out. I do think the narrative voice is a strength of the piece.

  4. My library sadly does not have it, so I’d have to ILL.

  5. Brenda Martin says:

    The choice to have The Groove as the narrator was interesting and to me largely successful. However I wonder how various age levels will respond to this technique. Will kids find it charming? Will teens find it grating? And adults could find it a little of both….For me, while most of it was pitch-perfect,, some of Pinkney’s writing as this narrator/character was overly colloquial and vaguely cutesy. I also thought the road trip idea was clever, though some of the connections between Motown and automobiles got a little tenuous at times. Finally this is an example of mostly excellent bookmaking with a great cover and photos and other illustrations, except for some captions that are too light for the background color.

  6. Finished this and basically loved it. I thought the use of the Groove as the narrator was fabulous as well as the ride device. Liked that it was crisp, clear, and sufficient for this particular audience — that is, the narrator acknowledged that there is more to tell, but this is a ride, one that glides by without lengthy stops. So glad you drew our attention to this one, Nina.

  7. I agree that the Groove worked well. She did a nice job of bringing that voice to the front at chosen moments, then toning it down for passages. It seemed to give her the freedom and flexibility to cover a long stretch of history effectively. As Monica says it “glides by without lengthy stops”….but she stops just long enough when it was needed. Providing some extra lead in to the Detroit riots, for example.

    Sometimes the breezing by resulted in a slightly over-positive picture of Motown. The song “War” is offered as an example of Motown’s active role in protest music…but the Temptations’ original version wasn’t released as a single because of concerns about their image. And you do get the sense in this book that Motown was the ONLY soul music or socially conscious music of the 60s and early 70s. But I’m okay with that, I think: for this book, with its intended audience, I actually think her focus on Motown only, with a largely laudatory spin, is probably just right.

    However, I have to take issue when she warns kids off of Rick James’ “Super Freak.” That’s my personal response (because “Super Freak” is a great record, and even features the Temptations on backing vocals) but not only personal. It just seems like an oddly specific comment in a book that is all positive about every other song mentioned; also, Motown released plenty of other material that might offend young listeners, so why pick on RJ? And to me it felt like a jarring shift in the voice of the Groove….I was fine with it telling me what I should listen to, but when it starts telling me what songs to beware of, it sounds more like a Grown up than a Groove.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Steven, thanks for reminding me of that passage. I have it marked as well, and I do think it stands out for the reasons you mention; but you do have to look at it within the context of the previous page. It starts on p. 125 (in the ARC) with a kind of a rolling tribute to the 80s disco/R&B dance music, and the Groove riffs on what lovers might say to each other, through song. “If [sic] called your lady a ‘Brick House’…you were giving her a compliment. Or if you follow Teena Marie’s straightforward way of deadling with things, you’d be tellig your guy you love him by talkin’ ‘Square Biz.’ …But honey, do me a favor. If you really care about somebody, please don’t sing Rick James’s Top 40 hit ‘Super Freak’ to her face….”

      The Groove then goes on for several sentences decrying James’s lyrics (for good reason, if out of place), and I think that that is what makes it stand out so much, where “the Groove” starts to sound like “Andrea Davis Pinkney.” I think it’s fair enough to mention the lyrics within the context of what the 80s dance club music was about, as she does so regarding other songs/eras, and especially since this particular song is still well known and heard, but often as caricature in movies (including Little Miss Sunshine and Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

      It’s clear there’s a bit of an agenda going on with the amount of attention she gives it, however, and it strikes an odd tone. But there are a handful of places where the tone wavers, and I take it along with the “breeziness” that you mention in your second paragraph, which, at this point, still works for me. I need to give this a re-read at some point, and want to make sure to do it in its final package, rather than the ARC.

      • Good point about the full context, Nina. Although I think she’s off-base a bit on “Brick House.” The ladies I surveyed (okay, it was only two, and I’m related to them) don’t consider that song very respectful to women (though one of them still likes it). And it’s not really a term you would “call your lady,” it’s a term that one guy might use with another guy to describe a lady.

        I’m probably getting way too picky, but it’s just that she did such a great job throughout the book of introducing and describing songs up to this point. She chose representative ones and, with the voice of the Groove, gave readers a real sense of what each song was like, even if they’d never heard it before. So the missteps at the end were disappointing to me.

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