Review of Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey

Spirit Seeker:
John Coltrane’s Musical Journey

by Gary Golio; illus. by Rudy Gutierrez
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion    48 pp.
10/12    978-0-547-23994-1    $17.99
There have been other picture books about gifted jazz musician and composer John Coltrane that have focused on his music or his childhood, but this one dares to take on the complexity of Coltrane’s entire life. Born into a caring extended family that encouraged him to pursue his talent for music, by adolescence Coltrane had already suffered more than his fair share of tragedy. The deaths of four close family members within a single year filled him with a sense of melancholy and a desire to search for meaning. His love of music pulled him into local clubs and music halls, where he also found solace in drugs and alcohol; he struggled with addiction for most of his short life. When he kicked his drug habit, he turned to religion as a spiritual quest. Remarkably, Golio integrates these aspects of Coltrane’s life into a picture-book biography that also successfully describes his music and what made it distinctive. The lengthy text is best suited for older children and even young teens. The sophisticated illustrations show human faces with a nearly photographic realism, while the lines depicting the background scenes are intentionally distorted and ultimately abstracted into swirling shapes. Thus the art ingeniously gets across the intangibles in Coltrane’s story as Golio tells it: his pain, his drug-addled mind, his spirituality, and his music.

Kathleen T. Horning About Kathleen T. Horning

Kathleen T. Horning is the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books and teaches a popular online course for ALSC on the history of the Newbery and Caldecott medals.

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