The best picture books that sing!

Gary Golio Author Of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge
By Gary Golio

Who am I?

My prime credential for writing these books is my own humanity, as someone who's felt the deep power of music on the human spirit since childhood. The stories I tell in these books are about musicians and artists, people who had a passion for creating something out of thin air with patience and many years of hard work. I highlight their lives to give kids (and adults) examples of passion coupled with persistence because Life is often very challenging.


I wrote...

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

By Gary Golio, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

What is my book about?

Sonny Rollins loved his saxophone. As a teenager, he was already playing with jazz stars and making a name for himself. But in 1959, at age twenty-nine, he took a break from performing—to work on being a better, not just famous, musician. Practicing in a city apartment didn’t please the neighbors, so Sonny found a surprising alternative—the Williamsburg Bridge. There, with his head in the clouds and foghorns for company, Sonny could play to his heart’s content and perfect his craft. It was a bold choice, for a bold young man and musician.

Sonny’s passion for music comes alive in jazzy text and vivid, evocative paintings of New York City. His story celebrates striving to be your very best self, an inspiration to music lovers young and old.

The books I picked & why

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When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson

By Pam Muñoz Ryan, Brian Selznick (illustrator),

Book cover of When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson

Why this book?

A timeless tale of artistic and moral courage on the part of a legendary singer (Marian Anderson, 1897-1993) and an unforgettable First Lady (Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962). Particularly relevant today, the text and illustrations highlight both the power of Art in a public setting--The Lincoln Memorial, 1939, with an integrated audience of 75,000 people--and the heart-centered activism of two remarkable women who effected a shift in the national consciousness.


Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

By Robert Andrew Parker,

Book cover of Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

Why this book?

Winner of the prestigious Schneider Award, Parker's text and artwork celebrate the genius of the great Art Tatum - who just happened to be blind. The words are poignant and effective, but it is Parker's watercolor paintings that glow and amaze with a balance of sophistication and childlike elegance. In short, a master of one medium is being honored by another. 


Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist

By Bonnie Christensen,

Book cover of Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist

Why this book?

Bonnie was as beloved as her exquisite books, and this is one of my favorites (she also did one on Elvis). I miss this lady, but her work remains and Django is a marvelous tribute to one of the most unique and accomplished acoustic guitarists of all time. Reinhardt's story is inspiring because of his success as a Gypsy/Roma musician, but also because of how he became so masterful after a tragic accident that injured his hands. All about what passion can do in the face of difficult circumstances. 


Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice

By Susanna Reich, Adam Gustavson (illustrator),

Book cover of Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice

Why this book?

Susanna is an award-winning writer of many picture book bios, but I have a special fondness for this one about Pete Seeger, a standout musician, activist, and human being. Adam Gustavson's marvelous acrylic paintings are a perfect backdrop for a beautifully-written text about a man who believed in the power of Music, and who dedicated his life to the cause of civil and social equality for all Americans. 


Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

By Roxane Orgill, Francis Vallejo (illustrator),

Book cover of Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Why this book?

Deservedly, this book received 6 starred reviews for a superb pairing of text and artwork recounting the story of a historic photograph. Taken in 1958 for Esquire Magazine, A Great Day in Harlem captured the gathering of outstanding jazz musicians on a city street, and Orgill's book brings the magic of that summer day to life for young readers. How I wish this idea had been mine! ;]


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in jazz, jazz musicians, and piano?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about jazz, jazz musicians, and piano.

Jazz Explore 72 books about jazz
Jazz Musicians Explore 20 books about jazz musicians
Piano Explore 15 books about piano

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like To Be, or Not... to Bop, Good Vibes: A Life in Jazz, and Music is My Mistress if you like this list.