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Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow


“Mom, look.”

You probably say that a dozen times a day. There are many things you want to share with your Mom; things you’re doing and things you notice around you. Maybe it’s pretty, maybe it’s cool, or maybe it’s something very exciting.

And you know what? You’re not alone. Other kids like to show their parents the things they see and hear, and in the new book “Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow” (c.2010, Clarion Books, $16.99/$21.50 Canada, 32 pages) by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, you’ll read about a man who wanted to share with the world.

Jimmy Hendrix always noticed everything. When a thunderstorm rushed through his hometown of Seattle, he heard the rain plink-plink-plinking off the roof. He heard glass chimes and thunder, and it gave him an idea. He picked up his one-string ukulele and played with it until he matched the sound of raindrops.

Noises sounded like music to Jimmy. The engine of a truck, the scratch of a rake or a dog howling all gave him ideas. When he and his friends went to the record store, Jimmy was fascinated by “exciting new sounds and rhythms.” And every sound, inside or out, made Jimmy think of a color, which made him wonder, if people could paint with sound.

Wanting a guitar very badly, Jimmy used a broom for pretend, until his father bought him a used instrument. Later, he got an electric guitar, and everything changed.

Jimmy and two of his friends started a band, and they loved to perform together. But while practicing with a friend one day, Jimmy heard strange squeaks and raspy noises coming from speakers hooked to his guitar. He realized that he could make those sounds do anything he wanted. He could make his guitar scream or cry, laugh or shout. It was like painting a picture with his music.

“Dressed in the colors of the rainbow,” Jimmy became Jimi Hendrix, and he played his guitar for audiences all over the world. It made soft sounds and wild music, “bold as lightning” and gentle as the wind. Finally, Jimi was painting beautiful pictures with sound.

If your child has ever participated in a kitchen band, you know the propensity for kids to make music with things very un-musical. Because of that, children will understand part of “Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow.” It’s up to you for the other part.

Taking a few liberties with the truth scholars have presented, author Gary Golio tells about a boy who needs to make noise. That’s nice, but I couldn’t help but think that kids deserve to know why this book came to be, facts Golio barely mentions. The illustrations by Javaka Steptoe are interesting, in that it’s a medium you don’t ordinarily see, but again-kids aren’t going to catch that.

Still, if you’ve got a budding artist or musician on your hands, or if you raised your kids in a “Purple Haze,” this is a good introduction to Hendrix’s life. For those kids, “Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow” is definitely worth a look.