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The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening by Chris Raschka

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.

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The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press, 2014.

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.

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Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and Illustrated by Renata Liwska

Once Upon a Memory

Keep This Picture Book Close to Your Heart 

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Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden with illustrations by Renata Liwska, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Once Upon a Memory, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.00; eBook, $9.99, Ages 3-6) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

I fell head over heels in love with this book from my first glance at the cover – the entire cover – so flip this book over after you have studied the image above. A little bear watches a feather dangling from a squirrel’s fishing pole, thus introducing the book’s first charming line: “Does a feather remember it once was … a bird?”

Gentle rhyming couplets draw the reader through a wondrous, daydreaming journey that touches upon memory as well as natural and philosophical transitions. Although that sounds rather high-falutin, the book is perfectly pitched to young readers as well as the young at heart, pushing at the edges of natural curiosity and whimsy.  “Does a chair remember it once was … a tree?”

The illustrations are soft, lovely and endearing. Liwska’s details carry a tender repeating theme throughout the book, bearing the images from the “before” question to the “after” answer in captivating ways.  Splashes of warm, rusty reds and nutty browns enhance the rich images perfectly sized to reflect the tiny kernel of the initial question on the left page to the broad imagining of its answer on the right.

Are you still curious about the back cover?  Here it has become night, and our friend the little bear is now jotting his thoughts into a journal by the light of a firefly cloud.  What do you suppose he is writing?

Back cover art for Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden with art by Renata Liwska

Back cover art Copyright © 2013 Renata Liwska, Once Upon a Memory written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

This is a quiet, cozy read perfect for the child whose pockets are filled with pebbles, feathers and other curious treasures. It is a lovely poem for little ones who often ask Why? How? and What if? Once Upon a Memory is a wonderful springboard for capturing snippets of childhood musings within the delightful journey of its pages.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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