Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

Since the theme of Black History Month this year is A Century of Black Life, History and Culture, I thought I would look at this picture book about a very talented African American musician who contributed to making jazz one of the most beloved musical forms around the world.  Jazz has its roots in African American communities, beginning in New Orleans, and spreading quickly to St. Louis, Chicago and New York and the reast of the world and it is considered by many to be a quintessentially black musical art form.

Herman (Sonny) Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914, it quickly became evident that he was a musical genius.  He was a talented piano player by 11 and as a teen, Sonny could notate, compose and even had his own ensemble with singers.  But Sonny was too ordinary an name for someone who felt they really had come from Saturn, so Sonny became Sun Ra.

Sun Ra also noticed that blacks and whites lived separate, very different kinds of lives.  And when the US went to war, he refused to fight and kill people, spending those years in a Pennsylvania forest as a conscientious objector.

When the war ended, Sun Ra was off the Chicago, mastering jazz, do-wop and the blues.  Forming his own bank, the Arkestra, it was time to hit the jazz clubs of New York City, arriving in the 1960s.  From there, the sky was the limit, playing his particular brand of jazz around the world, wearing long colorful robes, necklaces and shiny metal crowns.

Raschka introduces the reader and draws them into the life of Sun Ra by playing a game of let's pretend - let's pretend that Herman Sonny Blount really did come from Saturn (but we know it is only pretend, right?).  He keeps up the conspiratorial tone throughout the book, thereby creating an intimate bond with his readers.  Raschka's colorful watercolor and ink illustrations, done in a palette of fittingly bold black and mostly primary colors, give the feeling of jazzy improvisation throughout the book.

Sun Ra may not be as well known as other jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk, but Raschka's obvious love of jazz has now made him and his music accessible to a whole new generation of readers and hopefully, jazz lovers.

And The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra would pair up very nicely with Rascha's other jazz musician biographies - Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop, John Coltrane's Giant Steps and Mysterious Thelonious - for some very jazzy fun.

This book is recommended for readers 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

February is Black History Month

This is book 3 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. An amazing book! Raschka's illustrations are a perfect companion to Sun Ra.

  2. I just got this book & still need to open it. Thanks for the great review! I love Raschka's work!

  3. This is such a fun book. He was a unique individual and I think Raschka did a great job with the illustrations.

  4. Hi there Alex, I've read so many great things about this picturebook - I really MUST find it soonest. :) The art appeals to me.

  5. This was one of my favorite picture book biographies last year. Thank you for sharing it with your readers.

  6. Thank you so much. We love Chris Raschka's books but don't know this one. We can't wait to read it.


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