When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana Book Poster Image
Vivid picture book traces rock star's humble Mexican roots.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Carlos' story intersects with several historical events, including the famous rock festival Woodstock and the United Farm Workers' protests led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. The book's epilogue contains some factual information about rock history and the impact of Woodstock.

Positive Messages

Stop looking out, start looking in, and you will hear "your angels sing."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carlos is a passionate, driven, spiritual, creative genius. His advocacy for social justice causes and mestizo pride are also admirable.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana, by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Jose Ramirez, is an uplifting, simple, and sweet narrative of the San Francisco guitar hero's rise from a small town in Mexico to worldwide fame. Focusing on his early life in Mexico, the picture book reveals a man who was deeply spiritual and connected to and proud of his mestizo (mixed-race) roots. 

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What's the story?

WHEN ANGELS SING: THE STORY OF ROCK LEGEND CARLOS SANTANA is one in a series of biographical picture books written by Michael Mahin (Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters). Featuring gorgeous illustrations  by Jose Ramirez that draw from Mexican folk art traditions, the book follows the story of young Carlos' upbringing in the humble village of Autlán de Navarro, his move to the big city in Tijuana, and his eventual migration to California. His passion for music was clear from an early age, and his family did what they could to nurture his gift, buying him instruments and allowing him to pursue his dreams after he ran away from their new home in San Francisco. As he grows up and navigates his way through the often prejudiced United States, Carlos works a series of tough jobs, builds up his musical chops, and finally starts a Latin-infused blues band that becomes a sensation in San Francisco, one of the country's rock capitals in the '60s. The book ends with his unforgettable performance at the festival at Woodstock. The concert film of that show catapulted Carlos to international recognition and began a long and prolific career that continues to this day.  

Is it any good?

This beautifully illustrated picture book biography of Carlo Santana is poetic, spiritual, and inspiring, just like the man himself. Featuring Spanish words and phrases and Mexican artistic touchstones, the writing and images in When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana evoke a distinctive Latin flavor that's often ignored in the American musical tradition. Likewise, the repeated refrain throughout the book that young Carlos was "proud of his mestizo blood" is a powerful message that speaks to how important his heritage is to his identity and his music.

For kids who might not be familiar with the music or history of the 1960s, this book provides a rich introduction to an underappreciated slice of the San Francisco scene. Santana's music and life story serve as a perfect example of the cultural evolution of America in a tumultuous time. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana shows the connection between Santana's music and the protest movements of the 1960s. How did the music of the era reflect the spirit of the times? 

  • Can you think of any other Latin American entertainers who have become popular and influential in the United States?

  • How does the art help tell the story? What does the illustrator do to convey music on the page? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Latino stories and music history

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