Introducing Jazz for Young “Hip Cats”

posted by Ruth

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a old friend who shares a passion for good books, good music, and the wonders of toddler grandchildren.  Tom wrote me that his daughter and the two little ones were visiting him and his wife Kathy for the weekend, and it was a book that came to the rescue:

Leah Mae, nearly four, was having trouble sleeping.  Kathy brought her to me, set her on my lap, and gave me a book.

The book was Hip Cat by Jonathan London, illustrated by Woodleigh Hubbard. You remember that? You bought it for me . . . I don’t know when.

He was a hip cat

a hep cat

a cool cat

Living all alone in a riverside shack:

Oobie-do John the Sax Man Scat Man,

the cool cat man.

The playful beat language and the colorful, sweeping photos calmed Leah (and, I think, mystified her a little bit.) So grazie anew, my friend.

It’s wonderful to hear from a friend—especially to learn how a book continues to have an impact on a new generation.   It is also a reminder to me that the magic of the jazz beat can strike a chord with little ones.

So here are five great picture books that introduce today’s young “hip cats” to the pleasures of jazz.


Hip Cat by Jonathan London, illustrated by Woodleigh Hubbard

Oobie-Do is a sax-playing, jazz-loving cat who tries to make it as a musician. The sounds and rhythms of “scat” make this a wonderful book to read aloud to young children who appreciate the beat and rhymes of the language of jazz. Modern, abstract art in vivid colors are the perfect illustrations. A great reason to start playing a little Miles Davis in the background. . .


Charlie Parker Played Be-bop by Chris Raschka

From the first page, readers experience the feeling and flavor of be-bop.  Besides being a wonderful introduction to jazz for a young audience, it is just plain fun.    Children are enticed by the sounds, rhythms, and emotions of the genre through colorful pictures and rhythmic words similar to the beat of “scat” singing.  Lots of the words are there just for the sound of them, creating a real sense of playfulness. As usual, Raschka’s pictures are fantastic.  I especially like the one of “Charlie Parker Played No Trombone” which shows him looking at a trombone and scratching his head.


The Jazz Fly written and performed by Matthew Gollub, illustrated by Karen Hanke

What’s the buzz?  It’s a fly who speaks jazz!   Golub has created a story about the inventive spirit of jazz–and the joys of learning to speak other languages.  On his way to a gig, the Jazz Fly asks different animals directions to town–but none of them speak his language.  “ZA-baza, BOO-zaba, ZEE-zah RO-ni?” he asks. The frog, the hog, and the donkey don’t understand Jazz Fly, but, fortunately, the dog does and Jazz Fly makes it to the Club.  With his keen ear for the wonder of sound, the Jazz Fly incorporates the animals’ language into his performance, to the great delight of his audience.  Karen Hanke’s vivid, vibrantly elegant–and detailed– illustrations zing & zap you from each page.  Sammy the Centipede & Willie the Worm and other great creatures are hoppin’ & boppin’ until the Jazz Club is jammin’.  Pop in the CD, performed by the author, and you can groove to the narration set to a jazz quartet.


Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo and Dianne Dillon

The Dillons have created a rhythmical, lyrical, magical tribute to jazz.  All the greats are here:  John Coltrane and Charlie Parker on sax, Thelonious Monk on piano, vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, trumpet by Miles Davis, drums by Max Roach, Stanley Clarke on bass!  The bright colors in the illustrations,  and the musical patterns to the language makes the music come alive–even before you pop in the accompanying CD.  The CD highlights jazz instruments one by one giving a short description followed by the sound that instrument makes, then concludes with a jazz song which includes lyrics that match words from the book.  On top of all this, it is a delightful read that children simply love.


Mysterious Thelonious by Chris Raschka and Charles Turner

This is a book to sing to, swing to, and sway to.  It’s an original tribute to Thelonious Monk, with beautiful watercolors that match the chromatic scale dancing over the pages.  And the way the words are scattered over the page make it impossible not to read it rhythmically! Readers will want to know–and hear–more about Monk after this exciting introduction.   As the hand-lettered text states, “He played not one wrong note, not one….He played the music of freedom. Jazz is the music of freedom.”   Highly recommended for all ages!



One Response to Introducing Jazz for Young “Hip Cats”

  1. famillejt says:

    What a wonderful selection of books and right up my street at the moment as I’m about to start a series of blog posts about picture books inspired by music ( This week I played some of my favourite jazz to my kids (Lionel Hampton) and asked them to draw “what they heard” – we had a lot of fun!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: