John Coltrane’s Giant Steps: A musical awakening.


John Coltrane’s Giant Steps


Picture Book

Ages 4 and up

By Chris Raschka

36 pages

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.


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8 Responses so far

  1. 1

    subhorup said,

    What a brilliant idea. As a writer, and a jazz lover, I am totally overawed!

  2. 2

    reocochran said,

    You are definitely doing all of us a service by being able to go and check out the books for several ages through your reviews. I have 6 grandchildren and am always looking for something new or different.

  3. 3

    Do you know how many writers since the creation of jazz have tried to analyze and explain jazz for the last 100 years? Some of them — (personal favorites) Ralph J. Gleason, Leonard Feather, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff — were brilliant, many others clueless. But this book seems to be in a category all its own. Thanks for bringing it to my (our) attention!

  4. 4

    beebopbuddies said,

    Reblogged this on beebopbuddies and commented:
    Love this Book Review! Let’s get Jazzy…

  5. 5

    yomicfit said,

    Love Chris Raschka! I have Charlie Parker Played BeBop, and love it!
    I read it for children and while they listened to Charlie Parker.
    Thanks for sharing such great literature!

  6. 6

    redpeffer said,

    Fantastic book, great review. Thanks!

  7. 7

    katmcdaniel said,

    This is such a fascinating idea for a book! What a great way to explain jazz and music. Would it bother you if I reblogged your lovely review?


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