Cover of book shows Esquivel floating above piano keyboards.“Rinty-Tin-Tin!”




This joyous picture book biography of quirky composer Esquivel rejoices in the weird sounds he incorporated into his music. It tells the story of his childhood in Mexico, his move to the United States, and his experiments with using new sounds in new ways in his music.

The book is full of delightful onomatopoeia. Sometimes the sound words appear within the illustrations. Esquivel surrounded by onomatopoeia.But onomatopoeia also shows up in the text itself:

When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.

Or later:

But the singers didn’t sing words–they sang sounds. They’d sing “Zu-zu-zu!” and “Doo!” and “Pow!”

The sounds make you feel like you’re hearing his weird and crazy music as you read.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations draw a lush world that reminds me of lounge music and the 1960s.

In the Author’s Note in the back matter, Susan Wood talks about how she got interested in Esquivel and described some of the process of her research. In the Illustrator’s Note, Tonatiuh compares his own process to Esquivel’s: Esquivel took familiar folk forms and changed them into new things. Similarly, Tonatiuh uses the imagery of ancient Mexican art and then transforms it to our 21st Century world. He includes a reproduction of one of those ancient pieces of art to show you exactly what he means.

Esquivel: Space Age Sound Artist, by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

CorneliusSometimes everyday people are the true heroes of history. Here’s a book that celebrates one of those heroes.

Cornelius Washington was a New Orleans trash collector. After Hurricane Katrina, despite the devastation and discouragement, he stayed in his job. Trash collectors like Cornelius were vital to making it possible for others, people from New Orleans and all around the country, to clear out the debris left in the wake of the storm and start a new life.

Phil Bildner makes Cornelius into a folk hero–one who piled bags into “perfect pyramids” and who danced in the streets while he picked up trash–who inspires everyone to work together. The language is infectiously bouncy, full of alliteration (“The barbers, bead twirlers and beignet bakers bounded behind the one-man parade” of ¬†Cornelius) and onomatopoeia (“Hootie Hoo!”) and fun to read aloud.

The back matter carefully draws a line between the invention that is in the story and the nonfiction basis of that invention:

…while Cornelius was certainly a showman, he may not have twirled lids like tops or clapped them like cymbals. He had signals and calls, but they weren’t the exact ones described here. The garbage bags he threw into his hopper probably didn’t land in perfect pyramids….And though he was celebrated and beloved in his neighborhoods, he was not called Marvelous Cornelius.

But he deserves to be.

This book reminded me of the beauty of a life well-lived and of the power we have as individuals to lift others, even when the problems we face are enormous.

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane  Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle Books: 2015.