Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Roxanne Orgill/Sean Qualls

Ummm hmm. Ella’s voice is one of my all time favorites. What I like about this picture book is that it tells the story of her early life, when she was just a Raggedy Cat trying to survive.

Ella had a larger than life personality ever since she was a young girl. Growing up in Yonkers, NY, her family didn’t have much but they had plenty of music.  Her voice could draw a crowd. She and her friend Charlie learned the newest moves and made a little change on the sidewalks dancing for crowds. It was a time of Jazz Jazz Jazz. Her mother passed away suddenly and she ended up on 145th Street in Harlem, living with her aunt. She didn’t get much love there so she searched for something better, on her own.

Ella’s 1938 chart0topper “A Tisket A Tasket” which was included in a movie called Ride ‘Em Cowboy in 1942. Oh look she’s at the back of the bus!  >_<

She got into some trouble and found herself in a school for orphans. They beat the girls, especially the black girls, so she ran away, back to Harlem. She was on the streets and in and out of people’s homes but one day she heard about auditioning at the Apollo Theater and decided to give it a try. The crowd almost ran her off the stage but the emcee gave her another chance and she blew them away! Ella started to make a name for herself. Despite her plain looks, bandleader Chick Webb gave her a chance to join his band at the Savoy. Ella’s spirit shone through her voice, loud and clear. People loved dancing to her. The band got their first big hit when she wrote “A Tisket, A Tasket.” With that song she shot to stardom and didn’t have to worry about food, lack of nice clothes and a place to sleep ever again!

I like Sean Qualls’ art style. He likes to lay his acrylic down a little rough and scratchy and uses a palette of reds, oranges, blues and browns. I love the jazz scenes that show the vibrance of Harlem at its artistic peak. Author Roxane Orgill and Sean Qualls really did an excellent job of pairing story with illustration; when I finished the book, I felt satisfied. I learned so much about young Ella and her spirit.

If you’re looking for an excellent biography that celebrates never giving up despite the odds, check out Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat…and go listen to some jazz!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for:  Jazz, Jazz Bands, Music History, History, African-American, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Inner Strength, Family, Determination, Discrimination, Jim Crow, Apollo Theater, Harlem, Dance, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill/Illustrated by Sean Qualls, 2010 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763617332

Freedom in Congo Square

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

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Image Credit: Lee and Low Books Inc., Katheryn Russell-Brown/Frank Morrison

 

A little girl picked up a big instrument and made a big sound that would rock the jazz world.

In recent years, there’s been a surge in excellent music biographies about women; I’ve already reviewed great books about Leontyne Price and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. What attracted me to this biography of Melba Doretta Liston is that she is a Black female musician. Sure history remembers and celebrates many great Black female singers but musicians? Not really. I’d never heard of this woman until this book. Jazz fans, is she well known? I certainly hope so…

Melba Doretta Liston grew up with music in her blood and luckily she lived in the thriving, jazz town of Kansas City in the 20s when it was a mecca of #BlackCreativity. Like Millo and Leontyne, she dreamed and lived music and when she was seven years old, her mama bought her a shiny new trombone. Her grandpa helped build her confidence and skill and in no time, she was blowing and making waves on the radio. Her family moved to LA and Melba continued to shine. She began touring the country with a band in the 40s, arranging music and throwing down. Her sound and skill was glorious. Unfortunately she and her band faced segregation and racism on their trips down South but Melba didn’t let that stop her. She’d continue to make music for years to come, touring the world, writing music and being true to her craft.

Morrison’s art is so dynamic. Limber bodies sway to the beat, round smiling brown cheeks, energetic musicians and Melba, the star, takes full control of that huge yellow trombone. His oil paintings embody jazz. Be sure to check out this awesome biography; Melba is someone to know and remember.

P.S. What a great cover, right? 😉 She’s sttrreeettchhing from edge to edge.

Recommended for: All Ages, especially 1st grade and up
Great for: Girl Power, Diversity, Music, Music History, Girls in Music, We Need Diverse Books, Determination, Family, Jazz, Dreams, Segregation, Community, Biography, African-American, BlackGirlsRock, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2014 Lee and Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600608988

Drum Dream Girl

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Do you feel the beat? Have a desire to make music and feel rhythm in everything around you? Cuban-American poet Margarita Engle’s new picture book is about the Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dared to drum when it was taboo for a girl to do so.

Drum Dream Girl dreams of drums; she can’t help it because the music is a part of her but on her island of Cuba in the 30s, only boys can drum and even her father discourages her drumming. She continues to dream in drumbeats and every sound is a rhythm. Despite what everyone thinks, she drums and drums and even joins an all girl dance band formed by her sisters. Though he tells her once again that she shouldn’t play the drums, her father finally comes around and takes her to a teacher who nurtures her talent and helps her grow into a gifted drummer. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga would go on to be a world famous musician and her music, her defiance and passion, would inspire female musicians in her home and no doubt, around the world.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Passion, color, music and hope fill the pages through Raphael López’s glowing illustrations. He uses acrylic paint to create warm brown skin, large hands, wide expressive eyes, colorful flowers and birds and these details bring the island of Cuba to life. There’s often a smiling sun or moon shining down on Millo as she drum-dreams. Similar to Raul Colón’s illustrations in Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, López draws a whirling strand of colorful ribbons to depict music. Engle’s poetry is beautifully descriptive and great for reading aloud. Drum Dream Girl will inspire you to learn more about Millo and it will make you feel like you’re in Cuba, sitting in a café on a hot summer night, sipping a drink and enjoying the sound of drums.

P.S. If you’re looking for more info about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, check out the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band by Alicia Castro, published by Atlantic Books, London, 2007. Thanks for the info Margarita Engle and Tony Koehler!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Defiance, Non-Fiction, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Rhythm, Family, Poetry, Gender Non Conformity, Girl Power, Music, Music History, Cuba, Dreams, Drums, Biography, Jazz, Girls in Music, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Rafael López, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544102293