Saturday, March 31, 2007

All That Jazz

Tomorrow is April 1. Yes, it’s April Fools' Day, but it’s also the start of Jazz Appreciation Month. Down in New Orleans, there's the French Quarter Festival (getting bigger every year, especially with those who are weary of the crowds at Jazz Fest) and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (if you're thinking of making a trip to New Orleans, make it during spring. The weather is usually at its best and there's bound to be a festival during the weekend). Click here to find out about Jazz Appreciation Month events in the DC area. We have a number of children’s jazz-related books, and I’ll tell you about a handful of them.

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Jazz Baby. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2002.

Jazz Baby is for the younger cool cats. There’s no story; just rhyme and a multicultural group of kids getting down. “Jazz baby, jazz baby, join the band. You’ve got music in your hands.” We see a toddler blowing a trumpet, toddlers dancing, a toddler beating the drums, and so on. If you want to include it in a storytime, think about reading the book first, and then performing it as an action rhyme. The book is rather small for sharing with a group, which is the only negative thing I can think of for this adorable book.

London, Jonathan. Who Bop? New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.

Instead of toddlers playing and dancing to jazz music, we have animals playing and dancing to jazz music. We meet each animal and learn what it is playing. The text is based on a jazz rhythm, so you can’t help but get into the rhythm as you are reading aloud. It’s very fun to read aloud, but practice it several times before introducing it, or you may trip up while reading the text.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1998.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa is the story of the Queen of Scat. It’s not your usual children’s biography, though. We are introduced to Scat Cat Monroe, dressed in a purple suit. He’s the narrator of the story, and unlike other scat cats and cool cats, Scat Cat Monroe is an actual cat. We learn of Ella’s determination to travel to Harlem, meeting influential friends, and her rise to stardom.

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra tells the story of Ellington, from his childhood in Washington D.C. to his triumph at Carnegie Hall. An afterward gives further detail about Ellington’s career. This was named for the Caldecott Honor in 1999.

Andrea Davis Pinkney and her husband-illustrator, Brian Pinkney, have created brilliantly written and illustrated children’s biographies of these two masters. In both books, the reader is addressed directly, which makes for a more personal reading experience than other children’s biographies.

Raschka, Chris. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), 2002.

I love this book. I have no idea how I can review it. As the narrator of the story tells us, “It’s John Coltrane’s marvelous and tricky composition, ‘Giant Steps,’ performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten.”


The narrator gives us a little background on John Coltrane while we see the performers “warming up.” Then, the fun really starts. Raindrops start off with the tempo, the box gives the foundation, and the other performers come in, adding their efforts to the composition. But things don’t go very smoothly, so the narrator has to start them over again, after giving them notes.

Oh, it’s impossible to really tell you about this book! It’s funny, but it’s also a way to illustrate the various components of a composition.

Ehrhardt, Karen. This Jazz Man. Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 2006.

If you know “This Old Man,” you’ll instantly know the melody and basic outline of the book. “This jazz man, he plays one/He plays rhythm with his thumb/With a snap! Snap! Snaazy-snap!/Give the man a hand/This jazz man scats with the band.” With each succeeding number up to 10, we meet a different jazz man who makes music in his own unique way.
At the end, the jazz men are introduced to us, starting with New Orleanian Louis Armstrong.
This would be a fun addition to a music or Black History storytime for preschoolers. The illustrations are bright and easily seen by a group, and they can sing along with you as you sing the first line (“This jazz man, he plays __) and the second to last line (“Give the man a hand.”). You’ll need to practice this before introducing it, for the melody is slightly different from the traditional rhyme.

Cool Jazz/Jazz Related Links:

Duke Ellington's Washington

Jazz Kids

The PBS companion site to Ken Burns's jazz documentary

Smithsonian Jazz, the site of Jazz Appreciation Month

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