Young Lester Polsfuss’ piano teacher sent a note home to Lester’s mother saying, “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music, so save your money. Please don’t send him for any more lessons.” Lester proved her wrong and grew up to become Les Paul, “guitar genius.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Lester’s mother told him. So Lester put his mind to creating things: a radio, a recording device, a mic and a speaker, and a solid-body electric guitar that forever changed popular music. Along the way, Lester also created personae—Red Hot Red, Rhubarb Red, the Wizard of Waukesha. As Les Paul, the white man played to diverse crowds with some of the greatest musicians of the era: Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Christian—all sharing a page in Helquist’s illustration as they sometimes shared a stage. The illustrations evoke the musicians’ energy with wild flames of sound erupting from speakers and a frequently repeated, sometimes-overdone multicolored circle motif reminiscent of Bryan Collier’s circles in John’s Secret Dreams (2004). Tomsic effectively explains Les Paul’s complex technical achievements, focusing on just a few that make sense for her audience. Her author’s note goes into more depth.
An exuberant introduction to a musician and creative genius that young readers probably have not heard of before. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)