Title: Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix
Author: Gary Golio
Illustrator: Javaka Steptoe
ISBN: 9780618852796
Pages: 32 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2010.

The cover should give you a clue that this picture book just explodes with color! At times, the double page spreads are a little overwhelming, but they are also so engaging that you sometimes forget to read the text. Is it collage? Is it painted? Is it wood, paper, paint, or a combination of the three? Whatever it is, and however it was done, it is very cool.

The text is also accessible for the intended audience, which I feel is probably early elementary students. Beginning the story when Jimi Hendrix was 14, it talks about how he started playing his “one-string ukulele”, could “imitate guitars and trumpets with his mouth and hands”, bought his first used guitar for five dollars, upgraded to the cheapest electric guitar after joining a band, and finally “played for audiences far and wide.” It handles very few details in the text, saving them for the “More About Jimi Hendrix” which follows the text. Instead, it stresses how Jimi grew up observing the world and trying to infuse his music with the life, color, and vibrancy he found around him.

For older readers, there is an author’s note that details how Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose and what effect the drug use might have had on his career. Personally, I think this portion of the book was a little over the top. The author informs readers “As a clinical social worker who has worked with hundreds of teens and adults suffering from addiction problems, I have seen how alcoholism and substance use often follow physical or emotional abuse, depression, childhood poverty, and the loss of one’s parents at an early age.” It sounds like he is diagnosing or evaluating Jimi Hendrix, which I don’t think fits the tone of the rest of the biography. The added resources regarding substance abuse, while nice to have, seem like overkill. People are not reading this book for a “told you so” tale of substance abuse. The illustrator’s note talks about his inspiration, but offers little information about how the engaging pictures were produced, simply stating that he “used plywood [he] found at The RE Store in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood.” and that he “layered and used bright colors” Don’t miss the very last page, which offers a list of sources and resources.

A solid interpretation of this musician’s life, the pictures alone are worth a look at this book. The lyrical text ends the story with Jimi Hendrix’s own words: “Don’t let nobody turn you off from your own thoughts and dreams.” In January, the book became a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Don’t feel too bad for illustrator Javaka Steptoe, since he’s already previously won the award.

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