Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, written by Susan Verde, published by Abrams, ISBN: 978-1419728495.
I can so relate to the girl at the center at Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, a bopping and poppy tribute to the joys of music. Ever since I was a little tyke, I loved listening to all kinds of music: my grandparents’ big band music, my sister’s ’70s singer/songwriter albums, and my parents’ mix of rock and light AM crooners. I became a music geek, listening to the top 40, but then also tuning into what my friends were listening to, rebelling with punk and new wave but also making my peers’ eyebrows go up when I admitted I liked ABBA, Donna Summer, and ELO (I lived in a town that grooved on FM and arena rawk–and I like that, too).
The girl who stars in Rock ‘N’Roll Soul hears music everywhere and in everything. She has the music inside her. She loves to dance and sing in front of a crowd (okay, I’m shy about doing that, unless it’s during storytime). And not just rock ‘n’ roll. She loves hip-hop and classical, blues and jazz, she’s Bob Dylan before and after he goes electric, and she’s Jimi Hendrix, too. The book does have a story arc. We see her getting ready for a school talent show where she rocks out in front of an adoring crowd with only one instrument: herself. The enthusiasm in the book engages and is contagious. The ever-positive Susan Verde, who writes about the joys of museums in The Museum and the beauty of yoga and mindfulness in I Am Yoga and I Am Peace respectively, fills the book with lively language that gets the feet moving. The “I’ve Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul” refrain throughout encourages kids to shout those words (this is a must for storytimes).
Meanwhile, 2018 Caldecott medalist Matthew Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) does a smashing job (as usual) with his glorious illustrations. His pen and ink and watercolor drawings capture a child in constant motion, but with great clarity and in a manner that pleases the eye. The girl dances and floats across the pages, striking seriously awesome poses that show she means business when it comes to loving music. I love the hand-drawn lettering on the “zoing oing toing” of her one string guitar and “tock pock tock” seen when she bangs a wooden spoon on a bowl. And some of the best moments show us her dreams (her face is in color while the rest of the daydream is in black and white) of playing being a DJ in front of huge speakers or being a conductor in front of an orchestra and choir.
When I met Susan Verde recently she said that she hadn’t met Matthew Cordell yet (this was a day before they were about to meet and go on a brief tour of schools together). That’s an interesting phenomenon in the kidlit world. Picture book authors often don’t meet their illustrators. But with Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, the harmonious blending of text and art is so perfect, you would swear they were in the same room together collaborating. This is a must for storytimes, and a great book to hand off to people (and there are a lot of them) who want great picture books about the universal joys of loving music.