The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Picturing Jazz for Children

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert will be webcast live from Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. While we hope you'll tune in, the event also seemed like a good time for the Big Read to explore how jazz has been approached in children's literature. Below are a few picture books that do a wonderful job of using illustrations and text to showcase the sounds, history, and personalities of jazz.

Image used courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt / Illustrated by R.G. Roth

Riffing on the popular children's tune "This Old Man," this book is a foot-tapping, finger-snapping journey through counting. As the text swings its way from one to ten, various jazz legends make appearances in gorgeous, retro-inspired illustrations by R.G. Roth.

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis / Illustrated by Paul Rogers

At the NEA, we're very familiar with Wynton Marsalis's musical prowess. Not only was the trumpet player named an NEA Jazz Master in 2011, but he is also the host of tonight's concert in New York. But as it turns out, Marsalis is as talented a writer as he is a musician. In this "sonic adventure" of a book, readers are shown how everyday sounds and noises—from a creaking door to a rumbling truck—form their own sort of symphony. It's a lovely reminder of how an artistic eye—or in this case ear—can make even the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill / Illustrated by Sean Qualls

In addition to NEA Jazz Masters who double as authors, a few of our honorees have been the subjects of children’s books as well. Ella Fitzgerald, a 1985 NEA Jazz Master, is the subject of Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat, which traces the singer’s remarkable journey. We meet her during the difficult, orphaned days of her childhood, applaud at her debut at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and finally celebrate as she receives worldwide recognition as the “First Lady of Song.”

Illustration copyright © 2006 by Christopher Myers from Jazz by Walter Dean Myers. Used by permission of Holiday House

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers / Illustrated by Christopher Myers

Written by the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, this book uses poetry to paint the story of jazz. Each poem describes a different chapter in the history of the music, from its African roots to the scat cat days of bebop. Thanks to beautiful images by Myers’ son Christopher, the book was named a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Read the Big Read’s interview with Walter Dean Myers.

Hip Cat by Jonathan London / Illustrated by Woodleigh Hubbard

A story about a be-bopping, sax-playing cat, this charming little book does a wonderful job of conveying the jumping, jiving rhythms of jazz. It's a great choice for kids who have an interest in music, but might not yet appreciate the significance of historical figures.


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