The Story of the Saxophone

by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author) James E Ransome (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Brassy, smokey, melodious. There's nothing like the saxophone.

This incredible work from the award-winners behind Before She was Harriet includes a poster of jazz music's greatest talents. You may think that the story of the saxophone begins with Dexter Gordon or Charlie Parker, or on a street corner in New Orleans. It really began in 1840 in Belgium with a young daydreamer named Joseph-Antoine Adolphe Sax--a boy with bad luck but great ideas.

Coretta Scott King Honoree Lesa Cline-Ransome unravels the fascinating history of how Adolphe's once reviled instrument was transported across Europe and Mexico to New Orleans. Follow the saxophone's journey from Adolphe's imagination to the pawn shop window where it caught the eye of musician Sidney Bechet and became the iconic symbol of jazz music it is today.

Deflty retold, this history is paired with the gorgeous artwork of James E. Ransome, including an attention-grabbing poster of iconic jazz musicians you can find inside the jacket. 

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Kirkus Reviews

Engagingly links the jazz saxophone with its European roots.

Horn Book Magazine

Ransome's illustrations shine with careful detail. . . .


Richly detailed, wonderfully expressive illustrations complement the text perfectly. . . . A satisfying story of a persistent, creative genius. Readers will almost be able to hear soft saxophone music playing in the background.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

A young visionary introduces a new musical sound to the world in an underdog story pulled from lesser-known music history. In early 19th-century Belgium, often bored Joseph-Antoine Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) works at his father's instrument shop, playing "nearly every instrument you can imagine," and inventing new ones, including the sax trombone and the flugelhorn. "Daydreaming of a new sound" and assembling "one crazy contraption after the next," Sax finally finds a unique sound between a trumpet and clarinet: the saxophon. Sax's instrument causes an uproar, admired by classical music icon Hector Berlioz, rejected by Parisian traditionalists, and labeled by others as a "devil's horn." Only after Sax's death did American musicians such as Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, and Dexter Gordon elevate Sax's controversial invention into an essential part of jazz expression. Cline-Ransome invites readers' empathy through clearly established stakes as Sax triumphs over critics, while Ransome's initially muted cityscapes give way to vibrant celebrations of band music, and end-paper portraits celebrate a diverse array of saxophonists. Ages 6-9. (Mar.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of numerous nonfiction and historical fiction titles for picture book, chapter book, middle grade, and young adult readers including Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams and The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Her verse biography of Harriet Tubman, Before She Was Harriet was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and received a Jane Addams Children's Book Honor, Christopher Award, and Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustration. Her debut middle grade novel, Finding Langston, won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and received the Coretta Scott King Award Author Honor. She lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with her husband and frequent collaborator, James Ransome, and their family. Visit her at

James E. Ransome's highly acclaimed illustrations for Before She Was Harriet received the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. His other award-winning titles include the Coretta Scott King winner The Creation; Coretta Scott King Honor Book Uncle Jed's Barbershop; Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; and Let My People Go, winner of the NAACP Image Award. James is also a recipient of the ALA Children's Literature Legacy Award. He frequently collaborates with his wife, author Lesa Cline-Ransome, and their books include Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams and Fighting with Love: The Legacy of John Lewis. James is a professor and coordinator of the MFA Illustration Graduate Program at Syracuse University. He lives in New York's Hudson River Valley region with his family. Visit James at

Robert Battle became artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in July 2011 after being personally selected by Judith Jamison, making him only the third person to head the Company since it was founded in 1958. Mr. Battle has a long-standing association with the Ailey organization. A frequent choreographer and artist-in-residence at Ailey since 1999, he has set many of his works on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II, and at The Ailey School. The Company's current repertory includes his ballets Takademe and Unfold. Mr. Battle studied dance at The Juilliard School before joining the Parsons Dance Company, and later founding his own dance company called Battleworks. Mr. Battle was honored as one of the "Masters of African-American Choreography" by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2005, and he received the prestigious Statue Award from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA in 2007. He is a sought-after keynote speaker and has addressed a number of high-profile organizations, including the United Nations Leaders Programme and the UNICEF Senior Leadership Development Programme.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Holiday House
Publication date
March 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JNF036040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Music | Jazz
JNF036090 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Music | Instruments
Library of Congress categories
Sax, Adolphe
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

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