From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-A well-conceived marriage of art and text breathes life and passion into this picture biography. Swirling strokes of vibrant colors give the book an almost cinematic quality, animating Coltrane's passionate journey from a joyous, nurturing early childhood with a loving extended family to the despair of losing too many loved ones in a short time. The music that had always been a part of the family's life and a strong involvement in the church sustained him as he struggled to find his way. As he grew older, his musical talent developed and led him to a career that became legendary, performing with greats like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. But the demons of loss and despair always haunted him. While a traveling professional musician, he began drinking, and when things became overwhelming, he succumbed to drugs. He looked for guidance in philosophy and world religions. Eventually, through intense determination inspired by the help of his second wife, Alice Coltrane, herself a musician, he managed to leave drugs behind. Coltrane's musical accomplishments and short career proved intensely significant in the history and development of jazz and bebop. Though technically a two-dimensional format, this unique selection has a kinetic and animate quality that envelops readers and honors the vibrancy of Coltrane's place in music. An afterword, author's note, and artist's note augment the book's perspective. A list of varied resources, both print, audio, and a website, offer additional opportunities for further examination.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
That the titans of modern jazz—Parker, Monk, Coltrane, and others—have become the recurring subjects of children’s picture books remains a curious phenomenon, one that perhaps says more about the tastes of the books’ creators than it does about the musical leanings of today’s young people. Still, the complex harmonies and unconventional melodies of modern jazz have certainly given wing to the imaginations of illustrators. That’s the case in this account of John Coltrane’s evolution as a musician. The Pura Belpré Honor–winning Gutierrez (Papá and Me, 2008) uses acrylic paintings and mixed media to layer bright, vibrant colors across swirling, flowing lines that effectively mirror Coltrane’s legendary “sheets of sound.” Wisely, Golio lets the pictures carry the melody while his text supplies the backbeat, moving quickly from Coltrane’s childhood in a churchgoing family awash in music, through his musical coming-of-age in Philadelphia (nodding at the attendant drug and alcohol problems), and on to his triumphant spiritual and musical breakthroughs in such records as A Love Supreme. Afterwords provide more detail on Coltrane’s life and discuss musicians and drug use. As an impressionistic introduction to a jazz giant, this should whet appetites to learn and hear more. Grades 4-7. --Bill Ott