Thursday, May 23, 2019

Picture Book Review: Sonny's Bridge by Barry Wittenstein

Image: Charlesbridge

Sonny's Bridge: jazz legend Sonny Rollins finds his groove by Barry Wittenstein. Illustrated by Keith Mallett. unpgd. Charlesbridge, May 21, 2019. 9781580898812. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Even the most tone-deaf of readers will find themselves bopping to the rhythm of this snazzy picture book biography told in free verse of jazz legend, Sonny Rollins. Rollins was born in 1930 in Harlem, where jazz legends Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald often performed. He was drawn to jazz early and when his mother finally bought him a saxophone, he would practice like crazy. World War II raged and he would sneak into the Apollo Theater to learn from the greats. At nineteen, he began playing his own gigs around town and very quickly made a name for himself. He just as quickly walked away.

This accessible biography is a terrific introduction to jazz and one of its innovators. Everything about it is energetic and beautiful from the poetry that begs to be read aloud to its gorgeous digital illustrations. The design is genius as well. I just loved the first title page that looks like a vinyl LP in its sleeve complete with the circular crease that outlines the disc inside. Turn the page and the next title page shows that disc on a turntable. These delights will probably need to be explained to young people whose music is delivered digitally. One can get lost in each illustration noticing and appreciating little details like the whoosh of notes, the upward view of the Williamsburg Bridge or the gorgeous sun setting over lower Manhattan while a despondent Sonny contemplates his life. Oh! And check out the jacket flaps!

Exemplary back matter includes an author's note; Liner Notes about The Bridge Album; a timeline; quote sources, two websites, videos and books to learn more as well as a Selected Bibliography. I am constantly reminding my students to check out the backmatter for research and source ideas. A well-done back matter section is a treasure trove of information!

The copyright page, located on the final page, sports the same design as the front. Had I had a say, I would've suggested that it mirror the front with "Side 2." (Teeny quibble.)

I would be eager to learn if there are plans for an audio book. I recall reading Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop by Chris Raschka way back in 1992. I am a fan of Raschka's work and I liked this enough. It wasn't until the early 2000s and I was a librarian and discovered the audiobook. Once I shared it, I realized how badly I had read the book originally. The audiobook was immersive and experiential. Hearing the music and listening to the performance transformed the book for me.

In the absence of an audiobook, librarians and teachers who share the book with young readers would do well to find Rollins' music from The Bridge.  I can't wait to add this to my sixth grade picture book biography unit. 

Sonny's Bridge: jazz legend Sonny Rollins finds his groove is truly a treasure.

ETA: More book design beauty. I forgot to mention the slipcover dilemma. Sometimes it pains me to tape a cover down on a library book:

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