Ages 4 and up
By Chris Raschka
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Published in 2002
Chris Raschka has tackled jazz before in two previous picture books, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (1992) and Mysterious Thelonius (1997). His book Yo! Yes? (2007) was awarded a Caldecott Honor. In 2006 he won the Caldecott Medal for The Hello, Goodbye Window, by Norton Juster (author of The Phantom Tollbooth). He won the Caldecott Medal again in 2012 for A Ball for Daisy. I feel quite comfortable saying that Chris Raschka is a genius. (This article, written by his wife, titled “The Habits of an Artist” is a fascinating read.) His art is rich and loose and full and free; his text is concise and lyrical.
If you had to describe Jazz to someone who’d never heard music, this would be the perfect book to help you do it. Raschka flawlessly combines simple shapes, thick, dark lines, a pastel palette and instructive text to create music on the page.
In the opening spread our narrator introduces us to the band. They will be performing “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.
Each member has a job— the box lays the foundation, the raindrops set the tempo, and the snowflake is charge of the harmony.
Once that’s all laid out, the cat enters, dancing over it all and adding the melody. All the while the narrator is directing the action.
(Readers familiar with Coltrane’s work may already have made the connection—raindrops, kittens, snowflakes, and boxes “these are a few of my favorite things.”)
When things get a bit messy, our narrator takes a break, describes Coltrane’s music, slows the whole thing down and helps the band get back on track.
The narrator’s instructions are simple and rich and so exquisitely descriptive of Coltrane’s music. But don’t see it as only Coltrane’s music. Think of it as an introduction to jazz, to music, and the way in which words and pictures can convey something seemingly indescribable.