Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon
This picture book biography looks at the life of Leontyne Price, an African-American opera singer who burst through the color barrier. Born in Mississippi in 1927, Leontyne grew up poor in money but rich in music from both her parents. They also taught her that she was just as good as anyone else, no matter what their color. Leontyne was inspired when she saw Marian Anderson perform and then got to sing in the church choir when Anderson performed in 1939 after being barred from a whites-only concert hall. Leontyne headed to Ohio to college where she planned to be a teacher, but when her voice was discovered she changed her major to voice. She then went to Julliard and on to the world stage where she sang on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She became the first black singer to star at La Scala and broke wide the door that Marian Anderson had first opened.
Weatherford writes in prose that reads like poetry, broken into stanzas and offering celebrations of this inspiring woman on the page. From the pride and power of her upbringing by her parents to the final pages that show how far she has come, the book captures the strength and determination that it took to take a natural gift and break down barriers with it. Weatherford’s words are filled with moments that are inspiring, times that are amazing, but she also keeps things down to earth, showing even on the final page that Price is entirely human even as she reaches incredible heights in her career.
Colon’s illustrations are beautiful. Filled with his trademark scratches and lines, they have a beautiful flowing texture that carries from one image to the next. He uses sweeping colors to show the beauty of the music coming from both Price and Anderson, filling the world with the colors of music.
A beautiful and powerful testament to one of the ground breaking artists of our time. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Melba had always loved the sounds of music: blues, jazz and gospel. Even when she slept notes and rhythms were in her dreams. When she signed up for music class at school, Melba picked out a long horn that was almost as big as she was. Melba practiced and practiced, teaching herself to play. Soon she was on the radio at age 8, playing a solo. When Melba was in sixth grade, she moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles where she became a star player in the high school band. When she was 17, she was invited to go on tour with a jazz band. She played with some of the greats, but she was one of the only women on tour and racism in the South was harrowing. Melba decided to quit, but her fans would not let her. All of the top jazz acts in the 1950s wanted her to play with them. So Melba came back, went on more tours, and her music conquered the world.
This picture book biography of Melba Doretta Liston shows how music virtuosos are born. Her connection with music from such a young age, her determination to learn to play her selected instrument, and her immense talent make for a story that is even better than fiction. Melba faced many obstacles on the way to her career but overcame them all. She survived the Great Depression, found her musical voice early and then professionally. She also had the challenges of sexism and racism to overcome on her way to greatness. This is all clearly shown on the page and really tells the story of a woman made of music and steel (or brass).
Morrison’s art beautifully captures the life of Liston on the page. His paintings are done in rich colors, filled with angles of elbows, horns and music, they leap on the page. They evoke the time period and the sense of music and jazz.
Put on some Dizzy Gillespie with Melba Liston playing in the band and share this triumphant picture book with music and band classes. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.
The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka
Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka has both written and illustrated this picture book biography of the jazz musician Sun Ra. Sun Ra claimed that he came from Saturn. He came to earth in 1914 in Alabama and he was named Herman and called Sonny. From the very beginning, Sonny loved music. He learned to be a musician as a young child and also studied about philosophy. As a teen, Sun Ra was already a professional musician. When World War II came, he refused to become a soldier and instead was labeled a conscientious objector. After the war, Sun Ra returned to his music and formed The Arkestra. They made wild jazz music, created their own costumes, and toured the world sharing their music. Sun Ra left earth in 1993, having changed it for the better with his music.
Raschka has created a celebration of Sun Ra on these pages. His text is playful and invites readers into the book. It opens with the idea that Sun Ra was from Saturn and scoffs at that, but then plays along with it as a premise throughout the book. Intelligently, children are invited in on the humor and can see what is really happening that way.
Raschka’s illustrations are bright and loose. They suit the jazz of the music with their free flowing lines, deep colors and they way they capture landscapes as well. These are illustrations that celebrate music on a deep level.
A beautiful picture book about a jazz legend, this picture book should be welcome in all library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Herman is a crocodile who lives in New York and finds it very lonely. He loves playing his oboe in his apartment. His job selling things on the telephone, makes his life less lonely because he can talk to people, but doesn’t make him very good at his job. Rosie lives in the building next door to Herman and she loves to sing. She has a job washing dishes but loves most of all her singing lessons and performing in a little jazz club on Thursday nights. The two are lonely but fairly happy because both of them hear great music floating into their windows from time to time. Then one day Herman loses his job and Rosie discovers that the jazz club is closing. The two of them head home and don’t make any music for a long time. Until they wake up one morning and things have changed. They are craving their favorite food and want to make music.
Gordon has written a picture book ode to big city living, particularly New York. He incorporates the potential loneliness of urban life but also praises the bustling, the music, the lifestyle. The characters are quirky and believable. They are the sort of characters who make perfect sense, whose actions are credible, reactions ring true, and they make the entire book work.
Gordon writes and illustrates with a playful tone. His illustrations are done in mixed media, including photographs, paint, and pencil. The different media are worked together so thoroughly that at times you never notice the photos mixed in. They are so cleverly done that it all forms one unified piece until something catches your eye.
Two musical souls in one big lonely city where they live next door to one another. It’s a combination just as exquisite as New York itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Based on a true event, this book shows the innate connection of children and music. When Dylan and his mother leave the house, Dylan is always noticing things. His mother is not. It was an ordinary day until he heard the music in the subway station. The man with the violin played and the notes swept through the crowded area. Dylan wants to stop and begs his mother to pause, but she won’t. Dylan though is left with the music in his head and finally convinces his mother that evening to stop and hear the music too.
This book is based on the true story of when the renowned violinist Joshua Bell played in the Washington DC subway. His story is captured in the notes at the end of the book, explaining that only seven people stopped to listen to him play and that many children paused but the adults with them hurried on. Stinson writes with a playfulness that makes the book dance along. She uses lots of rhythms and noises throughout, really bringing the world of the city and subway to life.
Petricic’s art captures the wonder and brightness of music, the zigging noise of shouting and screeching subway. Dylan is a bright spot of color, the music in the air sweeps and swirls with bright colors, and the violinist is also a bright spot, as you can see in the cover image. The music is powerful enough to lift Dylan off his feet, swirl his hair like a breeze, and entirely transform is day.
Bravo for capturing this eloquent story about the power of music and its connection to children in particular. Standing ovation! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Annick Press and NetGalley.