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The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick Press, 2014, $15.99, ages 5-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.
Chris Raschka’s picture book biography about Sun Ra, comes just in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth (May 22, 1914). Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, Sun Ra believed that he came from the planet Saturn. Raschka playfully encourages his readers to imagine this is true and illustrates Sun Ra’s trip to earth with an astronaut-like figure blasting off from Saturn. Like any good traveler, Sun Ra was interested in everything around him, especially music, since it “ …was the one thing about earth that was most like the stars.”
An exceptional musician from childhood, Sun Ra formed an orchestra called the Arkestra, which traveled throughout the world. Raschka compares them to “ … sailors on a boat bound for a new world … of sound.” It was music, Sun Ra believed, not gravity, that held people together. On May 30, 1993, Sun Ra returned to Saturn.
Raschka, a two-time Caldecott award winner (The Hello, Goodbye Window and A Ball for Daisy), has introduced young children to the language and sounds of jazz in previous picture book biographies (Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps). Raschka captures the exuberance and energy of Sun Ra’s music in vibrant and colorful illustrations and accessible language. Back matter includes a brief biographical sketch and, along with the end pages, a list of recordings. Given starred review by Kirkus and School Library Journal, this inspirational book of an innovative and exceptional musician is highly recommended and must be accompanied by his music (see below)!
Visit the publisher, Candlewick Press, to download Raschka’s notes and the NPR blog Act Like You Know: Sun Ra by Patrick Jarenwattananon (May 22, 2014) for further information and to hear some of his compositions.