As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
SONNY’S BRIDGE: JAZZ LEGEND SONNY ROLLINS FINDS HIS GROOVE
Author/Illustrator: Barry Wittenstein, illustrations by Keith Mallett
Publication Info.: Charlesbridge, 2019
Ages/Grades: ages 6 to 9
Category: lively voice, biography, narrative nonfiction, rhythm
East River New York City night.
You hear that?
Overview (from the publisher):
“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.”
What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:
Wittenstein explores the tremendous pressure on a musical genius like Sonny Rollins; the pressure of living up to his own name and reputation. It’s a theme I haven’t seen explored in other picture book biographies, but surely something to which children can relate. (Since we live in a time when there is often tremendous pressure on kids to achieve and keep achieving.)
So what does Sonny do when the pressure’s too much? He focuses on the work — the music — and he does so by playing just for fun on the Williamsburg Bridge. In music, a bridge is a section of the song that contrasts with the verse and chorus of a song, since the verse and chorus are repeated over and over again. Think of the bridge as a little respite from the repetition. So the Williamsburg Bridge is Sonny’s bridge in his musical career. And it leads to a breakthrough album called, The Bridge. Barry Wittenstein, you are a GENIUS.
This book is loaded with rhythm and rhyme, a perfect study in alliteration and assonance for writers of all ages.
- Listen to The Bridge (or another jazz album) and consider how Wittenstein’s diction (word choice) and rhythm mimic the musical form. Note how Wittenstein’s short (sometimes one-word) sentences keep the beat of the book lively.
- Write your own song, including verse, chorus and your bridge. Use a jazz song as a model if you can.
- The publisher website has both an activity and educator guide for more ideas.