Barry Wittenstein’s Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove (2019) takes readers on a stroll through New York City that begins at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. The picture book manages to be both intimate and expansive. Although a biography of jazz great Sonny Rollins, his story is deeply contextualized within cultural and political history. Keith Mallett’s illustrations capture mood and motion, each a work of art that brings the story to life.
Big ideas are subtly woven into the text: bridges and breaks between old and new, artistry and pageantry. And, throughout Wittenstein makes deliberate choices with language, carefully crafting a heavily atmospheric tale.
The central themes explored are commitment to craft and self-discovery. Sonny was embedded in the jazz scene from his early youth and it was love of music that propelled him forward. This comes through magnificently.
I highly recommend this biography for school libraries. It is flexible enough to be incorporated into several lessons ranging from history to music to geography.
I particularly appreciated Wittenstein’s thoughtful description of what drew him to Sonny Rollins, not primarily as an artist, but instead a myth-sized man playing music on a bridge. A timeline as well as additional book, video, and web resources will help educators incorporate this book productively into the classroom.
Wittenstein’s passion for his subject is clear. This picture book will surely engage young readers!