December 07


Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood and Duncan Tonatiuh – Review by Elizabeth Brown

esquivel-space-age-sound-artistEsquivel! Space Age Sound Artist (Charlesbridge, 2016), written by Susan Wood and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, captures the story of musician Juan Garcia Esquivel, bringing both his story and music to life on the page. This picture book not only expands a reader’s knowledge of the life and work of Esquivel, it also helps expand ideas of sound and musician are dependent on one another.

Throughout the book, the reader gets a comprehensive view of the life of Juan Garcia Esquivel, from a small boy in Mexico with a huge musical talent to a star musician composing, performing, and arranging music for concerts, recordings, and films. The scope of the book powerfully and artistically details Esquivel’s arc to success. The reader is able to understand Esquivel’s music in relation to the society and the cultural framework in which he lived as well as within the context of the contemporary music scene at the time. It is both important and relevant for the young reader to learn about the triumphs and the struggles this musician lived through. One of the greatest strengths in the book is explaining how Esquivel was largely self-taught, lacking a formal musical education. Despite this, Esquivel achieved his dreams. The book is a celebration of the man and his music.

Esquivel mixed a variety of sounds together like an artist mixes colors for his paintings – an entire palette of colorful sounds! Throughout the book, the reader sees examples of Esquivel’s sounds highlighted across the pages, adeptly explaining and showing his unique style including lounge music, stereo recording, and the mixing of traditional Mexican songs with jazz-like idioms, his orchestra, and with new or “exotic” sounds which all made up his instrumental, wordless musical compositions often called space-age sound.

Author Susan Wood’s voice is distinct, strong, and lyrical throughout the book, allowing the reader to fully connect with Esquivel as both a person and musician. The reader is able to imagine what the music sounds like as the biography unfolds because of the strong literary quality of the text. Sound and music equal life to Esquivel, and the book delivers this message solidly throughout, like a clear distinct trumpet blaring or the call of a saxophone melody heard in Esquivel’s music.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s stunning illustrations add so much to the text. His style is “inspired by the ancient Mexican art, the Mixtec codex of the 14th and 15th centuries as he states in his illustrator’s note, and just as Esquivel used traditional Mexican songs reworked into his own new style, so does Tonatiuh emulate this same concept in his illustration style, mixing the old with the new and thusly connecting young readers to the past through his one-of-a-kind art” (Wood, 2016).

Just how far can the power of his sound and music reach? All over the world! Everywhere! Through this book, the reader discovers the true power of music and how Esquivel took on the world with his new style. Space-age sound lives on…forever. Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist is a must-read.

PA-BA-BA-BA! Roo-Roo-Roo!

Loo-Loo-Loo! Rah-Rah-Rah-Ree!

Bravo! Esquivel!  (Wood, 2016)


Work cited:

Wood, Susan. Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2016. Print.


Elizabeth Brown is a writer, independent film producer, and college professor of writing and the humanities. She is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary and her website is