Week 9: Jazz

Book summary: Walter Dean Myers’ collection of poetry tells the story of Jazz, that distinctly American music form, in swinging words and be-bopping rhythms. The introduction gives readers an education in what jazz is, while the glossary and timeline provide further instruction. But this “text” is anything but stodgy. Myers writes jazz – you can hear the trumpets and saxophones in the syllables he puts together. He had the good sense to get his son Christopher to illustrate his poems, and the smooth outlines, mellow colors, and larger-than-life perspectives are reminiscent of World War II-era nightclubs. The characters move, they sway, they dance and play. If the visuals aren’t enough, there is also a CD available, with the poems being alternately spoken and sung to jazz music.

My impressions: I think this book is awesome! I’ve put it (with the CD) on my wish list at HPB. Unless their parents teach them, students don’t get much music history education. Frankly, at a young age, they may be bored to tears by it. But Myers’ poetry provides a fun, interesting way to teach such a history. Additionally, I think Jazz provides a fun segue from the silly, rhyming poetry popular with small children, to a more mature style. Hearing the poems read with music may inspire older children to see poetry as something beyond dusty, old required reading.

Citation: Myers, W.D. (2006). Jazz. New York, NY: Holiday House.

Professional review:

“There have been numerous picture books about jazz and jazz history over the last decade, and by and large, the illustrators have fared better than the writers at capturing the spirit of the music in a way that relates to the young. Those attempting to describe the music in verse have encountered particularly rough sledding, many forced either to rely on wild abstraction (Raschka) or to craft poems so complex they exclude all but the most sophisticated young readers (Wynton Marsalis in his recent Jazz A B Z). Now, finally, the father-son Myers team has put together an absolutely airtight melding of words and pictures that is perfectly accessible to a younger audience. The poems parallel significant stages in the development of jazz, but the historical connection is only tangential; the draw of the poems, as with the music, is rhythm, and Myers captures the rolling cadences of early New Orleans jazz (“Well, good-bye to old Bob Johnson / We’ll haul his body slow / There’s a white horse a-striding / A sad deacon riding / Six men to lay him low”) as well as the staccato sounds of be-bop and beyond (“A shaved reed tongue is crying / In the blood dark studio / Drums add bark and grumble / As a trumpet blares something rude”). And, best of all, Christopher Myers’ pictures make those rhythms visual, the curving lines of his figures seeming to move off the page, swinging to the beat. Middle-graders will feel the sound of the words and pictures working together, and younger kids will hear and see that connection when adults share the book with them…”

Ott, B. (September 1, 2006). [Review of Jazz]. Boolist. Available from http://www.booklistonline.com,

Library uses: I think this book would provide a great background for a story time during Black History Month. The jazz band from a local high school could play for the group.

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