Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tunes And Transformation

Still like that old time rock 'n' roll
That kind of music just soothes the soul
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock 'n' roll
Bob Seeger

With strong roots in older styles such as blues, gospel, county and rhythm and blues, rock and roll music took the world by storm in the 1950s.  If you think the appeal of the beat found in these songs has lessened over the years, start playing a selection for a group of children.  Within moments first one, then another will start to move.  Before long all the guys and gals will be dancing to their hearts' content, loving every single minute of it.

A title slated to be released on October 21, 2014 proudly presents the lifetime achievements of one of music realm's greatest musicians.  Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company) written by Sebastian Robertson with illustrations by Adam Gustavson chronicles this man's road to renown.  His focus never faltering this man is still living his dream.

The Last Waltz
On Thanksgiving night in 1976 the crowd cheered wildly, stomping their feet, demanding the return of their favorite band.  Having just completed a five-hour set of songs, The Band, came out for one more. "You're still there?" Robbie spoke into the microphone, exciting the fans further. ...

From this opening page the clock is turned back to 1945.  As early as two, Robbie was listening to popular tunes of the day coming forth from the family radio.  Frequent trips to the Six Nations Indian Reservation, where his mother had been raised, instilled a love of storytelling in his soul.  Gatherings of relatives, many bringing instruments, increased his desire to make and write music.  He lived and breathed it playing his guitar for hours.

How many kids at the age of thirteen have their own band which later becomes the opening act for a popular group?  Robbie and his buddies did.  He went on to write two songs for Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, this same band, which appeared on their next album.  Robbie was on his way to the big time; New York City to learn with some great musicians and later a chance to play with The Hawks.

Beginning as the bassist, then as guitarist, Robbie practiced non-stop. How many people sleep with their guitar?  Robbie did.  He was further inspired by seeing and being with musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly.  Then came a phone call bringing about more transitions.

It was Bob Dylan.  The year was 1965.  They toured with Dylan, lived at his home in Woodstock, New York and recorded more music with him.  They became simply The Band, but the music they were developing was anything but simple.  Their sound, a blend of many, contributed to what is known today as Americana Music.

By 1970 Robbie and The Band commanded a huge presence in their field.  How many North American bands make the cover of Time?  They did.  And they did it first.

Author Sebastian Robertson is the son of musician Robbie Robertson, bringing a deeply personal perspective to the writing.  He divides the narrative into sections; each one emphasizing a significant event.  These are noted with headings such as:

Sleeping, 1945
We Are the People of the Longhouse or
Endless Highway---"Hey, Robbie? Ready to Take a Shot?"

This close relationship with the biographee, who is still living, gives the readers a more intimate look with the inclusion of numerous anecdotes. The writing style is informal but informative.

 Opening the dust jacket the illustration on the front shows a younger Robbie seated with his guitar on the back of the Cadillac driven by The Hawks from gig to gig.  It is set in a more rural scene depicting their cross county travels in the American South and all across Canada.  A beautiful full page portrait of a thoughtful, experienced Robertson covers the back.

Each time I read a book illustrated by Adam Gustavson his realistic paintings in oil seem ready to come to life. His illustrations heighten the narrative.  The layout, design and size of his visuals are dictated by his interpretation of the text.  Some pictures have borders; others flow from edge to edge and still more are smaller insets, elements stressing a portion of the storyline.  He uses light masterfully.

One of my favorite illustrations is of a younger Robbie lying in bed.  Resting against the side, near his head, is pictured the top portion of his guitar.  Above his head on the shelf is a transistor radio playing softly.  He is deep in thought, intent on the music.  Light, shadows and the color palette convey a sense of tranquility.

The best thing about nonfiction picture books is each reader brings to the book a certain amount of knowledge.  Sometimes you think you have an understanding of the topic but after reading a particular title, all you can think is "Wow, I never knew that before reading this?"  In reading Rock & Roll: The Robbie Robertson Story by Sebastian Robertson with illustrations by Adam Gustavson my knowledge of this particular musician grew by leaps and bounds.  For younger readers it will certainly serve as an inspiration.  A thorough annotated timeline with photographs is found at the back.  Sebastian Robertson also includes a two page question and answer with his dad.

For more information about the work of Adam Gustavson please follow the link embedded in his name.  To discover more about rock and roll follow the first link in this post to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website.  This link will take you to the publisher's website.  They include eight interior illustrations from this title.

This review/recommendation was written based upon an Advance Reader's Edition I received from my favorite independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers located in Petoskey, Michigan.

Every single week I am thankful to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher.  Be sure to check out the other recommendations listed there.

UPDATE:  Sebastian Robertson is interviewed at Cynsations a blog hosted by author Cynthia Leitich Smith on February 15, 2017


  1. Sounds like my kind of rock-and-roll PBB - I think I have pinned this one already, and will soon be hunting this down in our library. :)

    1. If you are a rock and roll fan it is a book for you. I learned a great deal. I hope you find it when it's released. Children need to know that someone from a different cultural background can make their dreams come true.