#MentorTextMoment

#MentorTextMoment: The Lost Forest

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.

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Book:

The Lost Forest

Author: Phyllis Root

Illustrator: Betsy Bowen

Publication Info.: University of Minnesota Press (April 2019)

Ages/Grades: 4 to 9 years

Categories: second-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography

First lines:

“How do you lose a forest?

First you need a forest to lose. A forest like the red pines and white pines that once towered in Minnesota, trees that had never been logged.”

Overview (from the publisher):

“The story of a forest “lost” by a surveying error—and all the flora and fauna to be found there.

A forest, of course, doesn’t need a map to know where to grow. But people need a map to find it. And in 1882 when surveyors set out to map a part of Minnesota, they got confused, or tired and cold (it was November), and somehow mapped a great swath of ancient trees as a lake. For more than seventy-five years, the mistake stayed on the map, and the forest remained safe from logging—no lumber baron expects to find timber in a lake, after all.

The Lost Forest tells the story of this lucky error and of the 144 acres of old-growth red and white pine it preserved. With gentle humor, Phyllis Root introduces readers to the men at their daunting task, trekking across Minnesota, measuring and marking the vast land into townships and sections and quarters. She takes us deep into a stand of virgin pine, one of the last and largest in the state, where U.S. history and natural history meet. With the help of Betsy Bowen’s finely observed and beautiful illustrations, she shows us all the life that can be found in the Lost Forest.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Have you ever made a mistake? We all have. The wonderful thing about this book is it shows what beauty can come from mistakes, like 300-year old trees with branches reaching towards the sky. There’s tremendous power in such a message for students, I think. This book would pair beautifully with Corinna Luyken’s THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

Another fascinating element is the extensive backmatter, especially the explanations of the surveying and mapping processes. The endpapers include beautiful renditions of the historic survey of the Lost Forty.

From a writer’s perspective, this book is an unusual biography of sorts — that of a small parcel of trees. And I love how author Phyllis Root admits –with humor–what the sources don’t tell us, including just why Josiah King made his fateful mistake.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

#MentorTextMoment

#MentorTextMoment: Two Brothers, Four Hands

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.

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The Book:

Two Brothers: Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti

Authors: Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; illustrator: Hadley Hooper

Publication Info.: Neal Porter Books (April 2019)

Ages/Grades: 7 to 10 years old

Categories: third-person POV, narrative nonfiction, present tense, dual biography

First lines:

“In the Swiss village of Stampa, surrounded by mountains so high that in winter their shadows fill the valley live two brothers.”

Overview (from the publisher): “The inspiring true story of the Giacometti brothers, one an artist, the other a daredevil, both devoted to their craft . . . but even more devoted to each other.

Everyone who knew them agreed. Alberto was the genius of the family. His younger brother Diego was his opposite–he didn’t care much for books or schoolwork, and he had no idea what he would be when he grew up. But despite their differences, the two brothers shared an intense bond.

Alberto Giacometti became one of the iconic artists of the twentieth century, whose tall, spindly sculptures grace the collections of museums around the world. Diego was always at his side, helping and encouraging, and in his spare time creating remarkable pieces of furniture, works of sculpture in their own right.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

The trick with writing a dual biography, in my mind, is finding the focus of the book. What theme connects the two lives together? In this book, the connection is apparent from the title: two brothers, four hands. Alberto Giacometti simply couldn’t have achieved his enormous success without his brother, Diego, who served as a model; built pedestals and molds and picked patinas; and in many ways sacrificed his own creative work to support Alberto. As Greenberg and Jordan write, Diego’s hands touched each and every one of Alberto’s sculptures. Children certainly will connect to the fierce bonds of family.

For teachers, this book serves as an excellent example of a “growth mindset.” Alberto Giacometti was far from an overnight success, instead, he honed his craft for more than two decades. He was a perfectionist who never felt his work was finished. And when he moved away from Surrealism, he was rejected by fellow artists, as well as art dealers, and friends. Through all of this, Alberto experimented, trying new things and striving to perfectly capture the human form.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • The backmatter for this book contains a basic explanation of art concepts and discussion questions for evaluating Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man II sculpture.
  • The Nurture Store has the perfect Giacometti craft activity: making foil sculptures.
  • Why not incorporate this book into a growth-mindset lesson? Khan Academy has a growth mindset lesson here.
  • This Tate video not only shows Giacometti’s sculptures but also explains why his work resonated after World War II.
#MentorTextMoment

#MentorTextMoment: Moth

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.

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The Book:

Moth: An Evolution Story

Author: Isabel Thomas; illustrator: Daniel Egnéus

Publication Info.: Bloomsbury (June 2019)

Ages/Grades: 6 to 10 years old

Categories: third-person POV, lyrical language, narrative nonfiction, nature, #STEM

First lines:

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, or survival and hope.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Powerful and visually spectacular, Moth is the remarkable evolution story that captures the struggle of animal survival against the background of an evolving human world in a unique and atmospheric introduction to Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

Against a lush backdrop of lichen-covered trees, the peppered moth lies hidden. Until the world begins to change…

Along come people with their magnificent machines which stain the land with soot. In a beautiful landscape changed by humans how will one little moth survive?

A clever picture book text about the extraordinary way in which animals have evolved, intertwined with the complication of human intervention. This remarkable retelling of the story of the peppered moth is the perfect introduction to natural selection and evolution for children.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

There have been a few evolution picture books in recent years like I USED TO BE A FISH (Sullivan) and GRANDMOTHER FISH (Tweet and Lewis). But as far as I know, no one’s attempted to explain natural selection, the mechanism of evolution, at the elementary school level…until now.

Through stunning illustrations and simple, lyrical language, Thomas and Egnéus show students how natural selection happens over time in response to changes in an animal’s habitat. As a mentor text, the great power in this book is the balance of words and pictures. It forces authors to consider how much they can rely upon illustrations to carry the story. And how much they need to explain.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: You Are Home

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.

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The Book:

YOU ARE HOME: An Ode to the National Parks

Author/Illustrator: Evan Turk

Publication Info.: Atheneum, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: apostrophe, lyrical language, list structure, expository, nature, #STEM

First lines:

“To the chipmunk in her burrow, sleeping beneath the leaves to keep warm; to the resilient bison in the steaming oases of an endless winter: you are home.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Award-winning author and illustrator Evan Turk showcases the beauty and importance of the National Parks in this gorgeous picture book that takes readers on an amazing tour across the United States.

Beneath the soaring doorways of stone,
and peaks that pierce the ceiling of clouds,
from every river, star, and stone
comes the eternal refrain:
you are home.

In simple, soaring language and breathtaking art, acclaimed author-illustrator Evan Turk has created a stirring ode to nature and nation. From the rugged coast of Maine to the fiery volcanoes of Hawaii, You Are Home reminds us that every animal, plant, and person helps make this land a brilliant, beautiful sanctuary of life.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Why was lyrical voice the perfect choice for a list book exploring the National Parks? Here’s why. Reading YOU ARE HOME literally brings tears to my eyes through its meditation on the majesty of “America’s Best Idea” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary about the National Parks.)  And that’s the same feeling I get when I visit the National Parks in person. Turk’s lyrical text perfectly captures his awe-inspiring subject. Imagine how the impact of this story would have changed if he’d used a humorous or serious voice.

Also notable: Turk balances his spare, lyrical language with extensive backmatter, providing more facts about the animals that appear in his artwork and a map to the National Parks featured in the book.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • Visit a National Park! Every fourth-grader and their family can get in free through Every Kid in a Park.
  • While you are there, check out the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program for kids of all ages. Complete the activity book during your visit and earn your patch or pin. Can’t visit in person? No problem. There are several badges you can earn online.
  • You also can check up on the wildlife through 20 webcams.
  • Evan Turk suggests drawing as a wonderful way to get to know a park. He created the book’s 20 drawings with pastel and black paper while hiking and exploring in person.
  • Turk’s book hints at the natural processes that formed many of these natural wonders, a great jumping off point for lessons about weathering and more.

     

     

#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: When Plants Attack

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.

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The Book:

WHEN PLANTS ATTACK

Author: Rebecca E. Hirsch

Publication Info.: Millbrook Press, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 9 to 14

Category: second-person POV, survey book, description structure, expository, sidebars, STEM, nature, scene building

First lines:

“In 1581 an explorer warned of an island in the South Pacific, known only as the Island of Death. On this island grew the Death Flower.”

Overview (from the author’s website): “In the wild, it’s eat or be eaten. Each living thing is on a mission to survive another day—including plants. And the measures they take can be downright deadly. Get a close-up look at meat-eating plants that trap unsuspecting mammals, African trees that enlist armies of biting ants as bodyguards, and an Australian shrub with prickly, poison-filled leaves that have landed unsuspecting humans in the hospital. But don’t get too close or . . . OUCH!

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

As soon as I brought this book into the house, my 12-year-old asked if it featured a pitcher plant (it does) and promptly took it out of my hands. It was weeks before I could get it back. Normally we think of picture books as a category for the youngest readers, but this book is a perfect example of how picture books can be “everybody books.”

First, is the subject matter. Hirsch knows how to hook older readers. Vampire vines? Tree-shrew toilets (pitcher plant). What kid wouldn’t be entranced?

Once the reader’s interest is piqued, Hirsch uses top-notch scene building to keep the reader turning the pages. Each chapter starts with a scene packed with sensory details, transporting the reader to far-off locations with its minute-by-minute action. Her writing allows you to “see” a mini-movie in your head. Hirsch also periodically uses second-person narration (“you”) to further connect with the reader.

Finally, Hirsch seamlessly weaves experts and their research into each chapter. I felt like each chapter was a mini “Scientist in the Field” book, giving readers a glimpse into the scientific method and the real work of both lab and field research.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • The books’ backmatter provides links to several videos of these plants in action. Here’s a favorite from The Atlantic.
  • The North Carolina Arboretum Society created has a fun-filled (and standards-aligned) educator guide for its Wicked Plants exhibit. A discussion of defenses begins on page 41.
  • For younger readers, Danielle’s Place has some really fun venus flytrap crafts and activities.
#MentorTextMoment

#MentorTextMoment: Hawk Rising

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.

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The Book:

HAWK RISING

Author: Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Brian Floca

Publication Info.: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: second-person POV, episodic narrative, fictional elements, STEM, nature, animals

First lines:

“Father hawk stretches wide his wings.

You stretch your arms as Mars rises red in the sky.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Early morning and a ruffle of feathers,

A shadow gliding through the backyard.

High above your house Father Hawk circles, sharp eyes searching for prey. From the front porch, you watch.

Swoosh!

He dives after chipmunks, crows, sparrows, squirrels.

Screech!

The sun sets low in the sky.

What’s for dinner?

A father red-tailed hawk hunts prey for his family in a suburban neighborhood in this thrilling, fierce, and gorgeous nonfiction picture book, Hawk Rising, illustrated by Caldecott medalist Brian Floca.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Maria Gianferrari’s lyrical text is stunning. There’s so much for writers to study especially the rhythm and musicality of her language. But here’s what really interests me: what purpose do the fictional elements in the story serve?

But wait, you say, this is a true story! It is — mostly. The fictional elements arise, in my mind, through the combination of the second-person POV and the illustrations. Gianferrari uses second-person POV to draw the child reader into the text. She gives the reader imagined actions throughout the day as the hawk hunts its prey, for example, “you watching” and “you yawning.” Many nonfiction authors have done this to wonderful effect, including Michelle Cusolito in FLYING DEEP, which narrates an imagined day aboard the Alvin submersible.

Yet unlike FLYING DEEP, HAWK RISING includes children, a girl and her sister, in the illustrations. Through Floca’s illustrations and the second-person POV, the older sister becomes the “you” in the story.

So what do these fictional characters add to the story? In modern, fiction picture books, the typical advice is the main character must be a child or child-like character, which serves as a surrogate for the child reader. Introducing child characters into this true story seems to be an extrapolation of this idea.

Second, I think the introduction of these characters adds to the tension in the story. Time is passing. The hawk tries and fails again and again to catch his prey. As night nears, we can imagine it will be the girls’ bedtime soon. Will the hawk catch its prey before the girls must come inside? Would the story have worked without the children in the illustrations? Maybe, but I think some of the tension would have been lost.

Fictional elements in true stories are a big topic of discussion in writer circles right now, notably, talking bugs, animals, plants, etc. in illustrations, as well as fictional narrators in otherwise true stories. In many cases, these elements inject humor into the story and allow authors and illustrators to flex their creativity. Who doesn’t love Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus? As long as the reader can tell (or is told) which elements are made-up, it’s probably fine. Just to be sure, I always suggest writers play fair with the reader, telling them what they’ve made up. You’ll often find this information in an author’s note.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Curious City DPW has two activities: Spot the Hawk and a make-your-own Red-Tailed Hawk glider.
  • Check out the Cornell Lab’s red-tailed hawk cam.
  • Can your students separate fact from fiction? Grab a few books with fictional elements to spark a discussion with your students. Check out titles by Jason Chin (CORAL REEFS, REDWOODS), Bridget Heos (WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING LARVAE), Bethany Barton (I’M TRYING TO LOVE SPIDERS), Miranda Paul (ARE WE PEARS YET?), Sara Levine (FLOWER TALK), Magic School Bus, etc. Ask students why they think authors and illustrators mixed facts with fiction?
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: John Deere, That’s Who

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.

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The Book:

JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO

Author: Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrations by Tim Zeltner

Publication Info.: Henry Holt, 2017

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, history, third-person POV, narrative

First lines:

Back in John Deere’s day, long before tractors and other newfangled contraptions, Americans dug the land with the same kind of plow that farmers had used as long as anyone could remember.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Back in the 1830s, who was a young blacksmith from Vermont, about to make his mark on American history? John Deere, that’s who!

Who moved to Illinois, where farmers were struggling to plow through the thick, rich soil they called gumbo? Who tinkered and tweaked and tested until he invented a steel plow that sliced into the prairie easy as you please?

Long before the first tractor, who changed farming forever? John Deere, that’s who!”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

You know what stands out about this book? Diction, that’s what! Tracy Nelson Maurer sprinkles her story with a few select words, giving us the flavor of the period and hinting at the country setting. Phrases like “newfangled contraptions,” “buckets of praise,” and “tuckered out.” Words like ” ‘course” instead of “of course.” Used too frequently, this type of language could be distracting, but Maurer uses these colloquialisms sparingly. Such fun!

When it comes to research, I’m always curious how authors deal with unsubstantiated facts or sources that conflict with each other. It happens more than you might think. In JOHN DEERE, Maurer had to make some guesses about whether John knew about plows made of steel instead of heavy iron. She lets the reader know right in the text instead of saving it for backmatter: “It’s a fair guess that John already knew of other plow designs…” Seamless!

Finally, I love Maurer’s ending where she tells us why we should care about John Deere. He didn’t invent a tractor. Just a plow. But that plow allowed farmers to work faster than ever, turning the prairie into America’s breadbasket. And that’s why we should care about John Deere. Do you?

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Tracy Maurer has a wonderful list of activities on her website, including coloring pages, a teachers’ guide, and other links.
#MentorTextMoment, Books, Science/Math

#MentorTextMoment: SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

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.

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The Book:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

Author/Illustrator: Vivian Kirkfield, illustrations by Chris Ewald

Publication Info.: Creston Books, 2019

Ages/Grades: grades 2 to 5

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, third-person POV

First lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up.

Eyes down.

Don’t speak.

Overview (from the publisher): “Sarah E. Goode was one of the first African-American women to get a US patent. Working in her furniture store, she recognized a need for a multi-use bed and through hard work, ingenuity, and determination, invented her unique cupboard bed. She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

One of the most transformational moments in my own writing was when I started to think about the craft of writing picture books as poetry, not prose. As a beginner, I often equated writing nonfiction picture books with writing an essay, which resulted in long, plodding paragraphs. Yikes! In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Vivian Kirkfield, shows us the magic of occasionally using short sentences, more like poetry, to keep the story moving. (Her opening is a perfect example.)

Also notable is how she shifts between a traditional third-person narrator and Sarah’s own experience. The opening lines above provide a perfect example. “Hurry up. Eyes down. Don’t speak.” are clearly words that Sarah hears as she works, though we aren’t told this directly. Overall, Kirkfield’s third-person narration stays very close to Sarah, the main character, giving us glimpses into her thoughts.

A final favorite is this book’s topic: invention! I find biographies about inventors to be so useful for students, in terms of teaching them persistence and the value of a growth mindset. What was it that Edison supposedly said? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That seems to be the path of all inventors (and creators like writers too), and Sarah is no exception.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

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.

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The Book:

THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN

Author/Illustrator: Mac Barnett, illustrations by Sarah Jacoby

Publication Info.: Balzar & Bray, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: biography, first-person POV, metafiction

First lines:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.

This book is 42 pages long.

You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,

so I am just going to tell you some important things.

Overview (from the publisher):

An exceptional picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown, the legendary author of Goodnight MoonThe Runaway Bunny, and other beloved children’s classics, that’s as groundbreaking as the icon herself was—from award-winning, bestselling author Mac Barnett and acclaimed illustrator Sarah Jacoby.

What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?

In forty-two inspired pages, this biography artfully plays with form and language to vividly bring to life one of the greatest children’s book creators who ever lived: Margaret Wise Brown.

Illustrated with sumptuous art by rising star Sarah Jacoby, this is essential reading for book lovers of every age.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Most picture book biographies use a narrative structure. There’s some sort of problem or goal introduced at the beginning. The main character attempts multiple times to solve the problem or achieve their goal. Typically the main character changes internally as part of the process (or society changes to accommodate the main character). And they achieve the goal or solve the problem at THE END.

So here’s the important thing about this book: it’s the first biography I’ve seen that employs a non-narrative structure, much like Margaret Wise Brown’s THE IMPORTANT BOOK, which Barnett mimics. Instead of starting with Margaret’s childhood and exploring her attempts to break into children’s publishing, Barnett riffs on the idea of what’s important about a person’s life. He also explores the idea of strangeness. Barnett’s non-narrative format is strange, but so were elements of Margaret’s life (as a girl she skinned her dead pet rabbit and wore the pelt!). And Margaret’s stories were often viewed as strange by snooty librarians who rejected them. But Barnett concludes that sometimes life is strange, so strange stories can feel true and important. And that’s what Margaret Wise Brown was all about.

Also notable is Barnett’s first-person narration and use of metafiction. He is clearly the narrator of the story, asking questions and injecting his opinions. His storytelling reminds me A LOT of his earlier metafiction, HOW THIS BOOK WAS MADE, in which he narrates the book-making process. A metafiction biography? Sure, why not?

I know this biography has generated a lot of discussion with some disputing whether it’s a biography at all. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Go behind the scenes to learn about the making of THE IMPORTANT THING at this blog.
  • Discuss with your students: should some books be banned from the library, as Margaret Wise Brown’s were? Many favorites from Harry Potter to Captain Underpants often show up on banned books lists.
  • Writing activity: What is the important thing about YOUR life? How would you write your life in the style of this book (and THE IMPORTANT BOOK)?
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: SONNY’S BRIDGE

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.

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The Book:

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

First lines:

Misty night.

Summer night.

East River New York City night.

You hear that?

Hear what?

That. 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.

Additional Resources:

  • 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.