Jazz Up the Music Curriculum

Music teachers looking to introduce students to jazz and jazz greats might find these picture books a great addition to the curriculum.

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For the youngest set, Charlie Parker played be bop is spare in text, but it’s oh so much fun! The book is written and illustrated by Chris Raschka. His illustrations and text work together to create a lively rhythmic story about Charlie Parker and his saxophone. Rhyme and onomatopoeic words add to the fun of the book.

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For older students, there’s Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa written and illustrated by the award-winning duo of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. The story is told from the point of view of “Scat Cat.” He takes us through Ella’s life from the time she was a child to when she found her true calling as The Queen of Scat. Brian Pinkney’s whimsical scratchboard illustrations and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s cool cat language keep readers jiving through the book.

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Pair the above-mentioned book with Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald written by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by award-winning artist, Sean Qualls, and you have two impressive books about a jazz great. Both books provide back matter for added information and further study.

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Another picture book in the jazz category by the husband/wife team of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney is Duke Ellington. Brian Pinkney’s illustrations use the same whimsical scratchboard technique as in the Ella Fitzgerald book, and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s lyrical language is music to the readers’ ears as they “Take the “A” Train” through the life of Duke Ellington. Once again, there is back matter for added information.

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In the book, Dizzy, Jonah Winter tells the story of Dizzy Gillespie, beginning from the time he was a poor, young boy living in the Deep South. Dizzy got into fights and broke rules, but when his music teacher gave Dizzy a trumpet, his life changed. The trumpet was his ticket to a better life. Winter tells how Dizzy’s “shenanigans” got him noticed and how he continually broke the rules when it came to using his trumpet to entertain the crowds. Playing with a band in New York, Dizzy puffed his cheeks, created his own BEBOP, and became a jazz sensation. The colorful and imaginative illustrations created by artist, Sean Qualls, bebop along with Winter’s story.

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One more book that features a jazz singer is Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Lady Day took care of Mister, and Mister took care of Lady Day. Amy Novesky tells how Mister provided the loving support and courage that Billie Holiday needed – especially when she sang at Carnegie Hall. The use of bright colors, collages, and humorous spreads by illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton add an appealing touch to a heart-warming story of a talented singer and her dog.

Are there any more suggestions?

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