Music Books for Children: Performers




Marion Anderson


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Pam Munoz Ryan, When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson.  Scholastic, 2002; ISBN-13: 978-0439269674

"Instead of the silver tones of the earlier title, this one employs acrylics in gold, copper, and a range of browns. As the book opens, the theater curtains part to reveal a girl singing in a window, framed in light..."

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From School Library Journal: (Kindergarten-Grade 5) In extensive endnotes, Ryan and Selznick mention the many Eleanor Roosevelt stories they heard after publishing Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (Scholastic, 1999). One fortuitous tale, concerning the First Lady and Marian Anderson, led to this companion book. Instead of the silver tones of the earlier title, this one employs acrylics in gold, copper, and a range of browns. As the book opens, the theater curtains part to reveal a girl singing in a window, framed in light. The title page is a concert program. The foreshadowing, tightly controlled recapitulation of themes, and stylized scenes (frequently incorporating stages) combine to suggest a performance. Linguistically and aesthetically, the book is a marvel of unified design. A trip to the Metropolitan Opera inspires young Anderson to strive for the dream she obtains by the end of the book. Early on, her master teacher enthuses that she "will be able to go anywhere and sing for anybody." The irony is played out as she tours Europe, but is stopped short in DC's Constitution Hall. Enter the Roosevelts, and what follows is history. When Marian sings, her eyes are always closed, her face a study of faith deeply felt. Hymns and spirituals punctuate the narrative, carefully chosen to tie into plot. Share this feast for the eyes and the soul with a wide audience. -Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

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Louis Armstrong

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Eric A. Kimmel, A Horn for Louis.  Random House, 2005; ISBN-13: 978-0375840050

"Adapted from an unpublished memoir, this beginning chapter book is an account of Armstrong's youthful acquisition of his first true horn..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 2-4) Adapted from an unpublished memoir, this beginning chapter book is an account of Armstrong's youthful acquisition of his first true horn. It also offers a snapshot of New Orleans's Brick Row at the turn of the 20th century that reveals the hardship yet intimate connection of its residents. Streets and neighborhoods come to life with the sights and sounds of the city's multiethnic communities. Young Louis lived in a rooming house with his mother and sister and dreamed of a bedroom of his own, with a real bed instead of quilts on the floor, and he helped to support the family. His musical gifts became apparent early on to those on the streets as he revealed a talent beyond the capabilities of a seven-year-old playing a tin horn without a mouthpiece. Kimmel's skilled narrative accentuates the diversity of the boy's surroundings and the early influence of local music upon his innate gift. Bernardin's dynamic black-and-white artwork captures the vivacious subject well and includes many period and cultural details. This biographical slice-of-life reveals much about the background of this famed musician. Simple sentence structure provides encouragement for fledgling readers and makes this an entertaining addition for most collections. -Mary Elam, Forman Elementary School, Plano, TX

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orgill
Roxanne Orgill, If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong.  Houghton Mifflin, 1997; ISBN-13: 978-0618250769

"Young Louis's love of song and dance is well known in the streets of New Orleans, but his exuberance gets the best of him one wild New Year's Eve..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 2-5) According to an author's note, many stories exist about the esteemed Louis Armstrong, especially in regard to his first encounters with a trumpet. To tell a story that is as "true as possible" to Armstrong's character, Orgill has sifted through his autobiographies and through various biographies to fashion this musically charged tale. Young Louis's love of song and dance is well known in the streets of New Orleans, but his exuberance gets the best of him one wild New Year's Eve, and after shooting an old .38 into the air, he finds himself in the Colored Waifs' Home. There, a Mr. Davis takes an interest; he makes the boy learn rhythm on a drum and practice "mellow tones" on an old bugle before giving him a cornet – but finally, Louis's dream comes true. As the story ends, Louis leads a band down Liberty street and, as we know, marches into musical history. A more hardened tale than Alan Schroeder and Floyd Cooper's admittedly "fictional re-creation" Satchmo's Blues (Doubleday, 1996), this account is probably closer to the truth. Using the two books together, however, could give teachers a great platform for discussing truth in biography. In tune with the text, Jenkins peoples the story with a rich array of faces and backs the characters with montages of swirling colors in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint to create a setting that pulses with the sounds of jazz. -Barbara Elleman, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

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Duke Ellington

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Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra.  Jump at the Sun, 1999; ISBN-13: 978-0786801787

"A royal introduction to the piano prince. Told in a swingy conversational tone and highlighting the musician's childhood, early ragtime days, and stellar rise to popularity, playing at the Cotton Club and, later, Carnegie Hall, this is a jazzy treat..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 1-5) A royal introduction to the piano prince. Told in a swingy conversational tone and highlighting the musician's childhood, early ragtime days, and stellar rise to popularity, playing at the Cotton Club and, later, Carnegie Hall, this is a jazzy treat. It is rare to find text that describes music so well. Phrases such as "sassy ride on his cymbal," "musical stream," and "purple dash of brass" carry the auditory experiences of the Duke's music right off the page. Young readers will find more than just a few facts here. They will learn what Duke Ellington did for the jazz world, how his music was played, and the legacy he left behind. Brian Pinkney's distinctive scratchboard, gouache and oil paintings are a harmonious complement to Andrea Pinkney's text. Bright, wild colors on soft neon backgrounds are beautifully balanced with black-and-white highlights. It is the blending of words, symbols, and pictures that bring this subject to life. A page of biographical information and impressive source notes conclude the presentation. This book swings. Don't miss it. -Beth Tegart, Oneida City Schools, NY

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Ella Fitzgerald

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Andrea Pinkney, Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa.  Jump at the Sun, 2002; ISBN-13: 978-0786805686

"Scat Cat Monroe, a feline who earned his name by knowing the 'Queen of Scat,' tells her story from 'small-town girl to the First Lady of Song'..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 1-4) Scat Cat Monroe, a feline who earned his name by knowing the "Queen of Scat," tells her story from "small-town girl to the First Lady of Song." The text, divided into four tracks (chapters), highlights Fitzgerald's early days in Harlem, singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra at the Savoy, and performing bebop with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall. In a playful, conversational tone, this work nearly sings the rhythms of scat. Lively words and phrases like "Her voice was quick-fried rhythm" and "her scat swung to cloud nine and back" are scattered throughout. Brian Pinkney's distinctive scratchboard-and-acrylic paintings evoke the rhythm of the text and invite readers along on the ride. They will enjoy finding Scat Cat himself on most of the spreads. Bright colors, jazzy words, and energetic artwork bring the music of scat and Fitzgerald to life. A page of biographical information is included. This beautifully rendered tribute to the "Vocal Virtuosa" will be a welcome addition in all libraries. -Shauna Yusko, King County Library System, Bellevue, WA

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Buddy Holly

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Anne Bustard, Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly.  Simon & Schuster, 2005; ISBN-13: 978-0689866678

"Bustard describes Holly's early life, his family's fascination with music, and his path to becoming a recording star..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 3-5) Bustard describes Holly's early life, his family's fascination with music, and his path to becoming a recording star. Information on his musical influences, his early bands, and the creation of the Crickets and their success is included. This lively work is written in a folksy vernacular, with plenty of yeehaws, whoo-de-doos, and yeeee-doggies thrown in with colloquial expressions like "knee-high to an armadillo" and "Buddy stuck to that guitar like white on rice." While the enthusiastic text is very casual, a factual afterword presents more details about Holly's life and career. Attractive watercolors contribute to the down-home atmosphere. Well done, but of limited interest to most kids. -Jeffrey A. French, Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library, Willowick, OH

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John Lennon

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Doreen Rappaport, John's Secret Dreams: The John Lennon Story.  Hyperion, 2004; ISBN-13: 978-0786808175

"Using a combination of simple prose, song lyrics, and illustration, this heartfelt picture-book biography traces Lennon's life from his childhood to his death. Striking in both its simplicity and complexity..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 5-8) Using a combination of simple prose, song lyrics, and illustration, this heartfelt picture-book biography traces Lennon's life from his childhood to his death. Striking in both its simplicity and complexity, it captures this enigmatic singer, artist, songwriter, and folk hero in a way that will move and fascinate those too young to remember the man but are surrounded by his music and myth. Collier's remarkable illustrations begin on the cover from which Lennon's emotionless face stares out from behind his trademark granny glasses. Inside the book, soft pastel circles appear everywhere. On some spreads, they are on the sidebars on which the text rests, accompanying an illustration. On others, they overtake the pages–sometimes as simple circles and other times incorporating themselves into the collage artwork, becoming records, or orange slices, or flashbulbs. Alternatively they trace over the illustrations, giving them a dreamlike appearance and reinforcing and celebrating Lennon's messages as his hopes for the world. Rappaport's text portrays him as a creative and tortured soul, referring only casually to his more controversial actions. His death is described simply as "murder" with no further details. His wishes for world peace and tolerance are reflected in most of the lyrics selected. This beautiful and stirring tribute will surely send readers to bookshelves and the music stores to learn more about the man. -Jane Marino, Bronxville Public Library, NY

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Elvis Presley

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Amy Littlesugar, Shake Rag: From the Life of Elvis Presley.  Philomel, 1998; ISBN-13: 978-0399230059

"A poignant glimpse of Elvis Presley's lonely childhood and of the impact made upon him by the people, both black and white, from the poor side of town..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 1-4) A poignant glimpse of Elvis Presley's lonely childhood and of the impact made upon him by the people, both black and white, from the poor side of town- Shake Rag. Friendless at school, he had as his only companion an old guitar; his dreams gave him the courage of hope. Music consumed him and on a visit to the Sanctified Church, a traveling tent troupe, he reveled in the power of gospel melodies. The quality of storytelling is remarkable; readers will feel that the author is speaking over their shoulders as she tells them of a special friend. Soft, muted oil-wash paintings characterize the boy's dream time, blending reality and imagination into one entity. The artist features a rich golden wave of color to illuminate vast scenes as well as an ever-changing light source to draw attention to the child and the people who touch his life. Cooper is at his brilliant best as he creates moving emotional portraits of individuals and of the changes in mood of the young Elvis. -Ronald Jobe, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

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Clara Wieck Schumann

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Susanna Reich, Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso.  Clarion Books, 1999; ISBN-13: 978-0395891193

"A thorough, well-researched, and creatively illustrated biography of a child prodigy. Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1819. Her troubled yet accomplished childhood is related in detail..."

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From School Library Journal: (Grade 5-8) A thorough, well-researched, and creatively illustrated biography of a child prodigy. Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1819. Her troubled yet accomplished childhood is related in detail, as is her courtship and marriage to composer Robert Schumann, a student of her tyrannical father. Reich gives ample attention to their life together, including their many children, and also writes of Robert's eventual battle with mental illness. The book also offers descriptions of the Schumanns' many friendships with other composers and musicians of the day, including Brahms, Liszt, and Mendelssohn. The rich, full life of this remarkable woman is illuminated by excerpts from letters written by her and those close to her as well as excerpts from her diaries. Black-and-white illustrations include many portraits and photographs of her and her family as well as programs and advertisements from her performances. A fine complement to Barbara Allman's Her Piano Sang (Carolrhoda, 1996), which is for slightly younger readers. -Carol Fazioli, The Brearley School, New York, NY

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