“Studying the Past, Writing the Future: Some Thoughts on the Study of History”
Before I even finished co-writing Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote (Viking, 2018), I knew I wanted to write another book like it. By “like it” mean:
A book of history for younger readers.
- A book that tells the story of incredible, genuinely heroic, and underappreciated people.
- A book that, despite its younger audience, still captures the nuance, complexity, and, above all, rich profundity of some important chapter from the past.
It took me many months, many long walks, and many conversations with many people before I stumbled upon the subject of nonviolence. As had been the case with suffrage a few years before, I knew next to nothing about this topic, but as I began reading my way into it, I could tell that it would make for a great book.
There was a more specific link connecting the two projects as well: Alice Paul, who led the American women’s suffrage movement during the final decade of its long struggle. I had grown utterly fascinated with the intense, truly radical, and somewhat mysterious Paul while working on Roses and Radicals. As I began reading about nonviolence I came to understand that she herself was a nonviolent activist, even though only a tiny fraction of the scholarship about Paul views her work in this context. So the writing of my book, We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, would begin by retelling her story, yet again, but this time in order to establish her rightful place alongside Gandhi, MLK, and Cesar Chavez.
But as I did this, I learned that We Are Power would be crucially different than Roses and Radicals. For one thing, it would tell more stories—and would thus require considerably more research. More important, however, these stories would be tied together not by a common set of characters, a single movement, or a shared setting, but by the strategy of nonviolent activism itself.
In this regard, We Are Power is not only a book of history, but a book of political theory, or, more precisely, a book about a half-dozen instances of this political theory being put into dramatic, inspiring practice. The book, as narrative, would be propelled by characters and conflicts, but the spine holding it all together would be the theory itself: the way nonviolence rethinks the very nature of political power and social change.
Unfortunately, I found this theoretical material, all on its own, dense, abstract, and, when read separately from the history, extremely dry and perhaps even boring. I knew that the parts of my book dedicated directly to this theory would have to be brief or I’d lose my readers. And yet, these parts, I learned as I wrote my various chapters, were in a sense the very point of the book. As they were interwoven into the various narratives I was constructing, they often found their place in and around the climaxes to each story.
The historical events were, I realized, the occasion to present the timeless truths at the center of nonviolent activism. This would explain why the title to my book of history—We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World—contains not one but two present tense verbs. It also explains why the book is able to pivot, in its conclusion, from past movements to a present struggle—the fight against climate change—that is very much ongoing.
Ultimately, We Are Power isn’t a book of history, or only a book of history. It’s a book about power and the way those who don’t appear to have power can claim it, in order to change the world in which they live. The truth about power at the center of this book is timeless.
I don’t have a lesson, per se, to offer teachers here, but instead a rather large bit of advice I encourage teachers to keep in mind when working on history with their students: studying the past is worthwhile not because there’s value in knowing, all by itself, what happened in earlier times, but because understanding history helps us see our present more clearly. This great, meta-historical truth needn’t receive a lot of attention in lessons, but it should be there, I believe, as an often-silent motivation for the entire enterprise.
Our responsibility to study the past is inseparable from our responsibility to apply what we learn to our actions in the present. When we teach young people history, we’re giving them a crucial tool in becoming informed citizens capable of transforming our present into a better future, and I can think of no lesson more important than that.
Published April 7th, 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
About the Book: Author Todd Hasak-Lowy’s We Are Power is a stirring introduction to nonviolent activism, from American women’s suffrage to civil rights to the global climate change movement.
What is nonviolent resistance? How does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Featuring leaders Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Václav Havel, and Greta Thunberg, We Are Power brings to life the incredible movements that use nonviolent activism to change the world.
By answering the question “Why nonviolence?” and challenging the notion of who makes history and how, author Todd Hasak-Lowy shows the ways key movements have succeeded again and again in all sorts of places, using a variety of methods and against overwhelming odds. Breaking down nonviolent resistance into digestible lessons for next generation of activists, this book is an inspiring call to action, a reminder that true power ultimately rests in our hands.
We Are Power also includes an overview of other movements from the last one hundred years, a bibliography, and an index.
★ “Hasak-Lowy’s writing gives life to both the people and issues involved, taking time to explain historical backgrounds and the ways the lessons from one movement affected future ones.” — Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
★ “Highly recommended for its outstanding treatment of the history of social justice. A good resource for student activists.” — School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
★ “There has never been a time when a book is more relevant than this one.” — School Library Connection, STARRED REVIEW
“A striking and very timely conclusion highlights teenage Greta Thunberg’s bold challenge to fight global climate change.” — Publishers Weekly
“This excellent, timely overview will open eyes and deserves a wide readership.”— Kirkus
About the Author: Todd Hasak-Lowy is the author of several books for young readers, including the novels 33 Minutes and Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You. He is a professor in the department of liberal arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has a PhD from University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Evanston, Illinois, with his wife and two daughters. Visit his website at toddhasaklowy.com.
Thank you, Todd, for this look at how history helps write the future: good and bad!
Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
Author: Shari Swanson
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
Summary: Based on a little-known tale from Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, this charming picture book written by debut author Shari Swanson and illustrated by acclaimed artist Chuck Groenink tells a classic story of a boy, his dog, and a daring rescue.
Deeply researched and charmingly told, this is the true story of one extra-special childhood rescue—a dog named Honey.
Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.
One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.
About the Author: Shari Swanson is a debut author who has been a middle school language arts teacher as well as an appellate lawyer. She received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote her thesis on musicality in picture books. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their dog, Honey. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide and activity kit, visit her website: shariswanson.com.
Facebook: Shari Swanson, Author
Author Q&A: Thank you to Shari for answering some questions for us and you!
Q: Why did you specifically choose this moment in Abe’s life to focus on? What did you hope to add to the Abe Lincoln narrative?
A: This story captivates me for several reasons. First, I love that we see Abe as a child—prone to distraction, earnest and loving, and with a deep compassion for animals. I feel it adds depth to our understanding of him as a man and makes him relatable to current children who might share these characteristics. Second, that Abe might not have grown up to be a man and our president without Honey gives me shivers. I believe Honey is an American hero, and that Abe’s kindness to Honey came back to bless him later. Kindness is something that causes ripples to go out and touch others in ways we usually never see. Finally, this is one of very few stories that features Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. Very little is written about his Kentucky years with Nancy, and she died shortly after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. That mother-son bond was important to him and is precious. I hope that this story fleshes out the narrative of Lincoln by showing his compassion from an early age as well as how his behavior was rooted in kindness. I also feel this story helps us appreciate the fragility of life and how interconnected everything is.
Q: What type of research did you do to prepare?
A: I’ve been twice to Kentucky to walk where Lincoln walked and explore the hills and hollows where he grew up. I’ve descended into several of the known caverns there to picture how he might have felt when he got stuck. I’ve been to all of the Lincoln museums and national sites in Kentucky to soak it in and ask lots of questions. I’ve read every book I could find on Lincoln’s Kentucky years, including chapters in larger biographies, pored over primary sources, like interviews, auction receipts, and land sale documents. For the timeline, I dove deep into every resource I could find, skimming for references to Lincoln with animals, loving that his affection for animals stayed with him all the way until the end. It makes me cry to think of his dog Fido and his horse, Old Bob, at his funeral. The picture of Old Bob, riderless, in the funeral procession, is powerful. Most all of this didn’t make it into the book, but I love research, and, as a former appellate lawyer, I’m a stickler for detail.
Q: Tell us your journey of your debut picture book.
A: My journey on this book began years ago when I was teaching middle school. We were reading an excerpt from Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln and a sentence about Abe’s childhood caught my attention. I wanted to know more about his best friend then and their adventures. I threw myself into research, discovered Austin Gollaher, Abe’s best friend, and had my local library send for a copy of his narratives. Back then, the book was dusty and old in a college archive room. Now it is available online. I had the deep pleasure of telling Russell about my hopes to write a picture book about Lincoln’s childhood, and he encouraged me. When I was getting my MFA, I learned how to take the massive amount of information I had and draw out just a thread for a picture book narrative. HONEY is the culmination of those efforts.
Q: Lastly, what do you hope is the readers big take away from Honey?
A: I hope children and adults fall in love with Honey and his boy. I hope readers feel the story is both grounded in its time and timeless.
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for the copy for review and giveaway & to Shari Swanson for her participation!**
Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Growing to Greatness)
Author: Vicki Conrad
Illustrator: David Hohn
Published August 13th, 2019
Summary: Just Like Beverly follows the life of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a successful writer who wrote stories, including the wildly popular Ramona and Henry Huggins series, for kids just like her.
As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.
Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.
Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary’s sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.
“Hohn captures her lively spirit through illustrations, reminiscent of those by Alan Tiegreen for Cleary’s own books, that will keep young readers entertained. A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred
“Conrad writes with clarity and features significant details that bring Cleary’s experiences and personality to life for kids today. Hohn makes good use of color, light, and pattern in his imaginative illustrations, which interpret the text sensitively. The artwork looks fresh and appealing while suggesting the period, the emotional resonance, and the upbeat spirit of Cleary’s books.”–Booklist, starred
“A celebration of Cleary, literacy, and the pursuit of ambitious dreams, this charming picture book will enhance any biography collection.”–School Library Journal
“Debut author Conrad’s storytelling is straightforward, ably conveying—in tandem with Hohn’s homespun, vintage-style illustrations—the various eras of Cleary’s life and her passion for writing and for nurturing readers.”–Publishers Weekly
About the Author: VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. When she is not writing or teaching, she is traveling the world, growing a garden, or searching for stories. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company. Just Like Beverly is her first book.
About the Illustrator: DAVID HOHN is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. His days are spent in the studio imagining what it would be like to be someone else, doing something else–and then he paints it.
Review: It was so wonderful reading about Beverly Cleary’s childhood! It truly showed how supportive teachers and parents plus some access to books truly can result in brilliance! It just took some guidance, praise, and confidence to make her bloom as a writer.
From a parent and teacher point of view, I loved that Beverly saw a issue in the children lit world and used a talent to work to try to solve that issue–what a great role model!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are three ways I picture this book being an asset in the classroom.
First, it is a wonderful addition to any picture book biography text set/mentor text set.
Second, it is a beautiful book to read aloud! And truly would lead to wonderful discussions.
Third, I could see it being used in conjunction with Cleary’s novels. How does her childhood story connect to the novels that she wrote?
- When looking for stories about kids like you and your friends, what type of characters are you looking for?
- [Writing prompt] Write a fictionalized story that you can relate to.
- What character traits did Beverly have to be as successful a writer as she was?
- What does Beverly’s pride in winning a contest that she was the only entry say about you?
- What do you believe is the author’s purpose for writing this title?
- How does Beverly’s story fit the theme of “Growing to Greatness”?
- How is children literature different now than it was during Beverly’s childhood?
Read This If You Love: Beverly Cleary!; Picture book biographies about writers such as Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet; A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert; A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant; Papa is a Poet by Natalie S. Bober
Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge:
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Author: Brian Floca
Published April 7, 2009 by Atheneum
Summary: Simply told, grandly shown, here is the flight of Apollo 11. Here for a new generation of readers and explorers are the steady astronauts, clicking themselves into gloves and helmets, strapping themselves into sideways seats. Here are their great machines in all their detail and monumentality, the ROAR of rockets, and the silence of the Moon. Here is a story of adventure and discovery—a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away.
“Like the astronauts’ own photographs, [Floca’s] expansive, heart-stopping images convey the unfathomable beauty of both the bright, dusty moon and the blue jewel of Earth.” –New York Times Book Review, July 1, 2019
Ricki’s Review: I thought I knew a lot about the Apollo 11. This book made me realize that I had so much to learn. My sons and I cuddled in one of their beds and read this one together. I whisper-read it because it felt too beautiful to read in a voice that was any louder. My kids followed this model and whisper-asked questions in awe. This book is a masterpiece. There are so many books out there about the Apollo 11, and although I haven’t read them all, I feel confident when I say that this is the best on out there. The illustrations are captivating, the story includes just the right amount of science, and the words dance on the pages.
Kellee’s Review: I love reading about space and have read dozens and dozens of picture books with my son about the topic. This book stands out from the rest. Brian Floca masterfully creates a story that is both engaging and scientifically accurate. This book offers so many possibilities for the classroom for teachers. The words are written in a poetic format which makes the pages easy to read and an excellent balance with the stunning illustrations. If you read just one book about the Apollo 11 this summer, let it be this one. It will knock you off of your feet.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Our minds were buzzing with possibilities after reading this text. Teachers might use this book at the center of a unit on space, or they might use it to catapult students into research studies about any topic of science. We can see this book in classrooms from pre-k through high school. It could be used as a creative writing mentor text or as a text at the start of a high school science unit. It beautifully balances scientific information with narrative, so we think it would be incredibly appealing to teachers of all content areas and grade levels.
- What did you learn about the Apollo 11?
- How is the information in this book similar or different from what you already knew about the Apollo 11?
- Why do you think the author chose the poetic format for the words?
- How do the illustrations add to your understanding of the text?
Read This If You Love: Moon by Stacy McAnulty, The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk, Once Upon a Star by James Carter, Space Encyclopedia by David Aguilar, You Choose In Space by Pippa Goodhart, A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin, Star Stuff by Stephanie Roth Sisson
**Thank you to Audrey at Simon & Schuster for providing copies of the book for review!!**
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Apollo 11 mission. To celebrate this momentous celebration, I am happy to share some fantastic space books! (And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!)
Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson
Author: Katherine Johnson
Published July 2nd, 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
The inspiring autobiography of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped launch Apollo 11.
As a young girl, Katherine Johnson showed an exceptional aptitude for math. In school she quickly skipped ahead several grades and was soon studying complex equations with the support of a professor who saw great promise in her. But ability and opportunity did not always go hand in hand. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges. Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.”
In the early 1950s, Katherine was thrilled to join the organization that would become NASA. She worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon.
Katherine Johnson’s story was made famous in the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Now in Reaching for the Moon she tells her own story for the first time, in a lively autobiography that will inspire young readers everywhere.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Author: Brian Floca
Originally Published April 9th, 2019 by Richard Jackson Books
Brian Floca explores Apollo 11’s famed moon landing with this newly expanded edition of Moonshot!
Simply told, grandly shown, and now with eight additional pages of brand-new art and more in-depth information about the historic moon landing, here is the flight of Apollo 11. Here for a new generation of readers and explorers are the steady astronauts clicking themselves into gloves and helmets, strapping themselves into sideways seats. Here are their great machines in all their detail and monumentality, the ROAR of rockets, and the silence of the Moon. Here is a story of adventure and discovery—a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away.
Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Published November 29th, 2016 by HarperCollins
This edition of Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book is perfect for young readers. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship
Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Elisa Paganelli
Published May 7th, 2019 by Sourcebook Jabberwocky
A heartwarming story of a friendship-seeking moon that also celebrates the extraordinary 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing!
From high up in the sky, the Moon has spent her whole life watching Earth and hoping for someone to visit. Dinosaurs roam, pyramids are built, and boats are made, but still no one comes. Will friends ever come visit her?
One day a spaceship soars from Earth…and so does her heart.
Includes bonus educational pages about the moon mission!
One Giant Leap: The Story of Neil Armstrong
Author: Don Brown
Published September 24th, 2001 by HMH Books for Young Readers
As a young boy, Neil Armstrong had a recurring dream in which he held his breath and floated high above the people, houses, and cars. He spent his free time reading stacks of flying magazines, building model airplanes, and staring through the homemade telescope mounted on the roof of his neighbor’s garage. As a teenager, Neil became obsessed with the idea of flight, working odd jobs to pay for flying lessons at a nearby airport. He earned his student pilot’s license on his sixteenth birthday. But who was to know that this shy boy, who also loved books and music, would become the first person to set foot on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Here is the inspiring story of one boy’s dream – a dream of flying that landed him more than 200,000 miles away in space, gazing upon the awesome sight of a tiny earth hanging suspended in a perfectly black sky. On the thirtieth anniversary of the moon landing, Don Brown’s expressive story reveals the achievement of this American legend, Neil Armstrong.
Previously Reviewed and Recommended:
**Thank you to Milena at Simon & Schuster for providing the books for giveaway!**
“Creating Words and Pictures for The Spacesuit – How Authors and Illustrators Work Together”
Alison Donald: Just like the Apollo program, a book is a product of a collaboration of a team. I’ve always wished I could draw. I can see parts of my story unfold vividly in my head. But I don’t have the necessary skills or talent to actually draw what I want to the quality that I want.
Thank goodness for illustrators. Illustrators can read a text and bring it to life. I was lucky to have Ariel Landy illustrate my latest book: ‘The Spacesuit – How a Seamstress Helped put Man on the moon”. But, do we actually work together? The answer is yes, but indirectly though illustration notes.
When I submitted ‘Spacesuit’ to my publisher Maverick Arts, I included a few illustration notes. I really wanted a 1960’s feel to book. I also wanted it to be fashionable. Afterall, it’s about seamstresses who were fashioning one of the most important garments in world history!
I identified when sewing machines and spacesuits needed to be in the text and I asked for the seamstresses to be crowded around the tv watching Neil Armstrong on the moon (spoiler alert! Sorry!).
I researched the A7L spacesuit and provided diagrams. I also provided photographs of the actual seamstresses at the factory of Playtex / ILC dover for reference.
Then, I sat back while Kim, my fabulous editor / designer found an illustrator.
It’s an exciting day when a sample spread arrives in my inbox. Here was Ariel’s sample spread for the Spacesuit:
Editors / designers have a much better sense of layout, how much text should be on a page, and they know more about colour palettes than I do. Kim worked with Ariel and then shared Ariel’s sketches with me.
I acted as another pair of eyes to make sure the pictures were factually correct.
It’s a just right fit when authors can weigh in on visual details that are relevant to the story (thanks Kim!).
Otherwise, it’s nice to leave it to the illustrator to create her own magic.
And as you can see, Ariel certainly did!
Ariel Landy: Happily, for me, by the time I got the story so much research for The Spacesuit had already been done, both by Alison and the editing team at Maverick. When I read the story for the first time, I had a briefing from our editors complete with photographs of Ellie and the talented ladies who actually worked on the spacesuit in various stages. I relied heavily on these primary sources to draw many elements of the story such as the pink factory coat that Ellie wears while working on a small sewing machine, and ‘Sweet Sue’ and ‘Big Moe’, the giant sewing machines brought in to help the seamstresses sew the many, many layers of the spacesuit! Also, fortunately for me, I had fact-checkers at Maverick to catch some of my anachronisms, such as coloring in the TV screen that shows the moon landing, when it likely would have been in black and white.
Of course, the internet is the ultimate research tool! There were so many accessible photos of the spacesuit at my fingertips, both on its own and adorning the astronauts. I was also fortunate to see the documentary Apollo 11, which happened to have a limited run in New York City just as I was working on the coloring stage of the illustrations. The film is all real color footage from the launching of the rocket that brought the brave astronauts to the moon. It was chock full of real spectators sporting the most wonderful 60s clothing and hairstyles. After seeing it I couldn’t wait to go back and tweak my characters!
I feel really lucky to have had such a great writing and editing team collaborating at different stages to make such a special book! Thanks team!
The Spacesuit: How a Seamstress Helped Put Man on the Moon
Author: Alison Donald
Illustrator: Ariel Landy
Published June 18th, 2019 by Maverick Arts
About the Book:There is a competition to make the spacesuit for the first moon landing! Ellie, an ordinary woman, is asked to lead a team of other talented seamstresses. No one believes they can win, but they are determined to try.
Based on the incredible true story behind the spacesuit that astronauts wore on the first moon walk and the team of women who sewed it together.
Don’t miss the other Blog Tour stops!
Monday, July 15th: Publisher Spotlight Blog
Tuesday, July 16th: YA Books Central
Wednesday, July 17th: Randomly Reading
Thank you so much for this guest post about this incredible true story!
Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the […]
Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.
Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.
Written in rhythmic prose with a bebop edge, this picture-book biography of Sonny Rollins’s journey to get his groove back will delight young and old fans alike.
About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now a New York City elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author. He is the author of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: The True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) and Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry lives in the Bronx.
About the Illustrator: Keith Mallett studied art at Hunter College in New York City. Keith’s work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic breakthrough into major league baseball, has graced the cover of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, and has been featured in many movies and TV shows. He is the illustrator of Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee and How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Keith lives in San Diego, California.
Praise: “An appropriately jazzy picture-book biography of African-American musician Sonny Rollins. It impresses from the endpapers, which mirror a vinyl LP in its paper sleeve and then playing on a turntable, to the liner notes about Rollins’ seminal album “The Bridge” in the back.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The life of jazz legend Sonny Rollins pulses with the rousing spontaneity of his music in Wittenstein’s free verse biography. Readers witness Rollins’s career as an acclaimed musician followed by his explosive success and the subsequent reincarnations of his art.” -School Library Journal, starred review
Review: The rhythm of the writing in Sonny’s Bridge automatically gets you toe tapping while reading. It captures the feeling and flow of jazz which truly sets the stage for Sonny’s story because in the end this is the story of Sonny Rollins and his path to finding his musical voice.
In addition to the rhythm in the writing, the illustrators images bring the words to life using movement, color, and line to show the power of the music.
Together, the words and music bring Sonny’s story to the readers in a way that will illuminate his struggles and his triumphs.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of the rhythmic writing, this will be an amazing read aloud! And then the students can listen to The Bridge.
We are lucky to be living in a time with so many wonderful biographies out there about amazing people and a lot of them happen to be musicians, so what a great opportunity for book clubs or jig saws to look at different musicians and how they became who they are/were and how they changed not only musical history but sometimes even history.
- Why does Sonny find the bridge to be the best place for him to practice?
- Why did Sonny take off two years and how did it change his life?
- How did Sonny’s life correspond with Black Americans’ fight for equal rights?
- How did the illustrator show Sonny’s music through is artwork?
- Why would some want the bridge to be renamed Sonny’s Bridge?
- After listening to The Bridge, how did the author capture the feeling of jazz in his writing?
Creator Corner with Barry Wittenstein from KidLitTV:
Read This If You Love: Music (specifically jazz), Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Hip Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari, The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy Andrews, Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff, Muddy by Michael James Mahin, Stand Up and Sing by Suanna Reich
**Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing for providing a copy for review**
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