Saturday, October 23, 2010


The multitude of books that carried the glossy sticker “Jazz collection” in the children’s section at the local library piqued my interest. I thought it might be interesting to read a couple of picture books about this musical form to my children. As we read them, we absorbed a distinct flavor, me more consciously than them. And soon I realized that this flavor was unfailingly delivered in every picture book that we later devoured.

Jazz Baby
Title: Jazz Baby
Ages: 0-2
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Published by: Lee and Low Books Inc.

It starts out with an assembly of ethnically diverse children ready to make music and dance. Some of them swing and sway, jiggle and wiggle, bounce and boogie while the rest are working the instruments. The verses are small and catchy. They mention the trumpet, drum, piano and bass – the simplest introductory presentation of the most important components of Jazz music. The last spread shows a tired group plopped on the floor with droopy heads and stretched out legs. The author writes - When I wrote this swinging nursery rhyme, I set out to write a jazz pat-a-cake. And I hear the diaper and toddler find the rhythm infectious. Yes! Just saying Jazz baby Jazz baby is energizing for all ages!

Bring On That Beat
Title: Bring On That Beat
Ages: 0-8
Author & Illustrator: Rachel Isadora
Published by: G.P.Putnam’s Sons

Sparing in words can be very powerful. That is exactly what this book is - a visual celebration of Jazz and Harlem in the 1930s. Rachel Isadora is a Caldecott winner and the work that brought her the award has already been reviewed here.

Isadora’s black and white oil paintings hold digitally rendered streaks and shapes in vibrant colors, a bold visual statement, strong enough to see Jazz as a force that transformed music and people. It is Harlem drenched in music. Three men playing Jazz under a streetlamp draw a crowd. Children and adults pause, stay and dance. Things heat up. Every roof top is soon humming and grooving and the town is Jazz-ing! Each spread carries a rhyme, probably kept simple to not distract the reader from the tempo the visuals are building. Duke Ellington, a Jazz icon is also included in the drawings, as a tribute. The book closes with the verse –

When you rap and you rhyme,
Remember that time –
When cats played the beat,
It was jazz on the street.

On the side are three present day youngster boys seated on the stoop in the Harlem neighborhood.

Cool Bopper's Choppers
Title: Cool Bopper’s Choppers
Ages: 4-8
Author: Linda Oatman High; Illustrator: John O’Brien
Published by: Boyds Mills Press

Logic aborted, this is hilarious! And you’ll see how.

Cool Bopper plays Jazz on his sax in a night club. He easily gets people swinging with his groovy music. But one day, during his act, his dentures fly out of his mouth and land on a bee-hive like wig of a dancing lady, from where it drops into the toilet bowl, gets flushed away and ends up deep under the ocean. Cool Bopper loses his magical music, groans and moans. Fired by his boss, he goes to the seashore where he hears his own tunes coming out of the waves. He finds his choppers and gets back his upbeat music!

Free flowing ink and watercolor illustrations also seem to sway and groove, aptly supporting the crazy incidents in a musician’s life. The highlight is the jazziness the verses carry to neatly lay out the details of the story of a jazz player that began like this - Cool Bopper was a bebopper in the Snazzy Catz Jazz Club.


Willie Jerome
Title: Willie Jerome
Ages: 5-8
Author: Alice Faye Duncan; Illustrator: Tyrone Geter
Published by: Macmillan Books for young readers

It is summer in the city. Willie Jerome plays hot bebop style jazz with his trumpet, on the rooftop all day long. And his sister Judy bops to his music all day long too. But everyone else calls it noise! The shop keeper, the other brother, the neighbor and even their mother! Willie Jerome, I just wish I knew another somebody who loves and understands your sizzlin’ hot jazz the way I do, Judy screams out to her brother who never gives up and continues to blow his horn on the rooftop. When Mama tries to put an end to the “noise” that evening, Judy begs her to stay calm and listen. Does Mama agree?

Perseverance to succeed amidst resistance, is the beautiful message. Pastel acrylics paint the picture of a hot day in an urban African-American neighborhood. The language that is typical to the people, lends authenticity to the story of Willie Jerome.

All these books imparted a very convincing musical attitude and at the same time transmitted a distinctive cultural vibe. The combination is intriguing and at the end, very satisfying.

Pictures Courtesy Publisher / Author / Book store websites. Thanks!


Vibha said...

Meera, what a treat of such lovely books. Thoroughly enjoyed the review.
And can't agree more on 'Perseverance to succeed amidst resistance' makes all the difference.

artnavy said...

Sounds engaging and delightful.... I hope I am able to find these here

sandhya said...

Wonderful, Meera!

Anusha said...

enjoyed this collection! i'm sure "Cool boppers choppers" will be a hit at our place.
we love music books. we've read a couple similar to "I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello..." and one by one all the instruments are introduced.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Jazz Baby sounds like perfect book for my toddler !! Thanks for this one.

Tharini said...

Can almost hear the music as I read your words. Very crisply done cluster Meera! Thanks. :)

ranjani.sathish said...

What a collection Meera and beautifully presented reviews! I think the second one "Cool Bopper's choppers" will be a big hit with my kids ! Thanks for this varied presentation on the same topic :-)

the mad momma said...

we're a jazz crazy family. even as i type this we have jazz on in the living room. i'm going to hunt down every single book. cant thank you enough for this meera..

Choxbox said...

Very interesting topic M! Thanks for bringing these to us.

Meera Sriram said...

Thank you Vibha, Sandhya, Tharini and Chox!

@Art - Try Rachel Isadora's, must be around.
@KM - You'll love these then! The title you mention says a lot:)Let me check it out.
@ CA - My own toddler knows the names of the instruments and their sounds and we do the Be-Bop-A-Be-Bop together and giggle!
@ R and KM: That was my personal fav too:) The way the story is told in Jazzy poetry won me over! Needless to say, the older kid loved it!
@ TMM: Oh, then you should read them, not necessarily these but there are plenty of children's fiction with a Jazz backdrop and they are so wonderfully unique in their stories and feel.

Praba Ram said...

Feeling energized and upbeat simply reading the reviews. Wonderful, M! Will check them out for sure!

utbtkids said...

I am constantly on the look out for books that help with music appreciation. Will definitely check out these books Meera. Thanks for your recommendations.

Sheela said...

Thanks, M! Much like MM, being a fan we play a lot of classic and modern jazz... I was looking for ways to read about Jazz to the kids to supplement the music we listen to... your picks seem very interesting! My mind instantly zoomed in on Cool Bopper's Chopper - sounds like a riot :)

sandhya said...

Rushed through the post earlier, Meera.

I am very fond of jazz, although I probably was the only one. Until recently when A discovered that Louis Armstrong, a singer who she enjoyed listening to, is a jazz singer. We have been searching for his jazz albums since then, but haven't laid our hands on one. She will certainly enjoy these books. Will be looking forward to finding them.

Natarajan Srinivasan said...

Jazz is one of my favorites. I am going to enjoy these books for sure :-)

Nandhan would certainly love Cool Bopper’s Choppers.

I can relate to Willie Jerome; even though I was in a trance playing my mridangam (and practicing) along with Semmangudi or Lalgudi, it was just utter intolerable noise as several others perceived it!

Thanks for introducing this entirely new genre of books!

Aline Pereira/ said...

These sound great (pun intended)! Thanks for sharing them!

Since Sandhya mentioned Louis Armstrong in her comment, I would definitely recommend "When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat" (for those who don't know, Scat is "the grown-up art form of sounding like a baby"):

And if you appreciate reggae, Lee & Low's "I and I", a poetic tribute to Bob Marley, is a treat. His message of peace, love and equality is beautiful and timeless. You can see a book trailer here:

Meera Sriram said...

@ P & utbt: Thanks! Do let me know if your kids liked them:)
@ Sheela: Oh, you should read such books to A & O, then you can all swing and sing together, wouldn't that be lovely!
@Sandhya: That's very nice to know, now you have company then!
@ Nats: You persevered! When a book is relatable, it takes it to a whole new level. I am sure you can pass on your dedication and persistence to Nandhan, in whatever he chooses to do. Thanks for stopping by:)
@Aline: Thanks for the pointers. We love Lee and Low books; just checked out the one on BM, set in Jamaica and about his life - seems wonderful!

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