cover image King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin

Stephen Costanza. Atheneum, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-5344-1036-7

In this pitch-perfect picture book biography of Black ragtime composer Scott Joplin (c. 1867–1917), author-illustrator Costanza regales readers with Joplin’s journey: born the son of a formerly enslaved man in Texas, Joplin served as a pianist in saloons and honky-tonks, eventually penning the “Maple Leaf Rag” and subsequently earning the title “the King of Ragtime Writers.” Costanza establishes an atmospheric, folkloric tone in narration rich with onomatopoeia and figurative language: “He’d patch in a riff from a work song,/ a thread of gospel here, a string of ring shout there—/ sewing together new tunes/ to play for his mother the next day.” Enchanting spreads rendered in gouache, wax pastel, and collage feature expansive patchwork fields and fanciful multicolored skies; fine-lined human figures are delightfully fluid and surrealistic, with Costanza showcasing a deep understanding of color theory. One particularly majestic spread features Joplin, eyes closed, superimposed over an intricate Ferris wheel against a dark sky. “The music went round and round in his head,” the next page reads, depicting a rotation of musicians, instruments, and circus fare. A richly detailed profile fit for a king. Back matter includes an author’s note with further historical contextualization, recommended listening, and a bibliography. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)