Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Popping in with a Perfect Picture Book Friday recommendation. This book is in my top 10 for 2020—a lyrical, gorgeous, important book about the power of music. Don’t miss it! 

9781524738884_p0_v2_s600x595Title: Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by:  Gary Golio

Illustrated by: E.B. Lewis

Nancy Paulsen Books/PRH 2020, biography

Suitable for ages: 6-12

Themes/topics: music, blindness, African American history, blues


Even in the deep darkness of outer space, there is light…


A science probe, strapped to a rocket, is shot into space. Voyager I, bearing a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.


Willie Johnson was born in 1897, and from the beginning he loved to sing—and play his cigar box guitar. But his childhood was interrupted when he lost his mother and his sight. How does a blind boy make his way in the world?Fortunately for Willie, the music saved him and brought him back into the light. His powerful voice, combined with the wailing of his slide guitar, moved people. Willie made a name for himself performing on street corners all over Texas. And one day he hit it big when he got a record deal and his songs were played on the radio. Then in 1977, his song—”Dark Was the Night”—was chosen to light up the darkness when it was launched into space on the Voyager I space probe’s famous Golden Record. His immortal song was selected for the way it expresses the loneliness humans all feel, while reminding us we’re not alone.

Activities and Resources:

  • Choose another famous musician to compare and contrast to Blind Willie Johnson.
  • Explore the blues genre from past and present. Choose a favorite song. 
  • What would you put into a capsule being launched into space? Choose 3 pictures, 3 sounds, and 3 songs. Then add 3 more things you think would be important to share from Earth. What is your message? 

Why I like this book:

The opening of this book is so powerful. I only shared a piece of it above because I want you to experience the beauty of it yourself. The narrator talks to the main character, using “you.” But “you” is also the reader. This has an interesting effect and feelsf personal. The use of the Voyager I recording is such a superb example of the impact of one life rippling through time. And with the art of E.B. Lewis, the illustrations are magnificent, and the palette so deep and rich. This is truly one of the outstanding picture books of 2020

Congratulations to Donna Rossman! You’ve won a copy of The Teachers March! by Sandra and Rich Wallace.

Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.


8 thoughts on “Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

  1. This book is on my TBR lists. I remember the Voyager I going into space. But have forgotten that about Willie Johnson’s golden record being chosen as a message to the Universe from Earth. Gives me the chills. Want to learn more about his life. Thanks for sharing today!

    Liked by 1 person

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