to be honest, the cover art on gary golio‘s (2012) spirit seeker: john coltrane’s musical journey practically jumped off the library shelf into my hands! in fact, one way to “read” spirit seeker is to ignore the words and simply look at each page’s mural-esque colors and lines.
golio’s piece is a wonderful example of condensing facts about a person’s life and transforming them into an accessible narrative. in some ways, it might have been easier to write about a fictional person when you consider the obligation to authenticity golio takes on. spirit seeker might inspire lessons or discussions about how writers might go about condensing enormous amounts of information.
what on the surface is a kids’ picture books becomes a complex tale of a legend’s troublesome life. one poignant aspect of the book is that golio does not sugarcoat coltrane’s drug and alcohol problems. aspects of coltrane’s life, these addictions are presented in the book alongside musical, spiritual, racial, and familial components. writers might consider the following questions: for whom did golio write this text? what is able to achieve in a picture book that he would not be able to in a print-only text? do the illustrations permit him to include more complex aspects of coltrane’s life in language?
golio’s ability to create images with words is beautiful. complementing elaborate artwork are passages such as “the sounds all swirling like the colors at sunset” (p. 1). one critique i have of spirit seeker is that certain image-rich or metaphoric lines seemed a bit forced. in his attempt to make sure the poetry of his lines is comparable to coltrane’s music, golio is a bit overzealous at times with the imagery he creates, hammering the reader with cliched images rather than relying on the power of the story.
overall, a wonderfully, colorfully written and illustrated piece about a complicated musical soul.