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SONNY'S BRIDGE by Barry Wittenstein Kirkus Star


Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove

by Barry Wittenstein ; illustrated by Keith Mallett

Pub Date: May 21st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-58089-881-2
Publisher: Charlesbridge

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. Born and raised in Harlem, Rollins grew up at the perfect time for a jazz musician. Written in free verse that flirts with rhyme, the text moves through measures and beats like the up-and-down swings of jazz. The vibrant, digitally created illustrations set the mood as they go from deep blue and purple nighttime hues to bright daytime tones and back again. The birth of Rollins’ career is explored as he acquires and falls in love with his first horn and learns the nuances of jazz by sneaking into some of the greatest clubs in Harlem. By the time he’s 19 people have started to notice how great he truly is. He spends most of the 1950s playing two shows a day, every day. Ten years later he needs a sabbatical: “Sonny knows if he don’t jump, / He. Won’t. Last.” He practices on the Williamsburg Bridge, and the first album after his return is called “The Bridge.” Child readers may not have thought much about Rollins, but Wittenstein’s admiration for his subject establishes his importance. All the characters present as African-American.

Opens the door for further exploration of both man and music.

(Picture book/biography. 3-9)