Jazz Books for Kids: An Annotated Bibliography by Craig S. O’Connell
First Grade Teacher, New Haven, CT. Updated 9-20-13
Contact info: Craig S. O'Connell

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Journey to Jazzland by Gia Volterra de Saulnier, illustrated by Emily Zieroth, published by Flying Turtle Publishing, Hammond, IN, 2013. $14.55 hardcover from Amazon.com. Taking a familiar story line in children's literature a group of cleverly named instruments (Sly Guitar, Reed Sax, Windy Flute, etc...) set out on a journey to find Jazzland, a big city where folks dance, sing and play. But it takes a whole band to make good music, not just a city, and that's the theme of this lively children's book. Comes with cut out instruments at the back of the book to create your own band.

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! - by Winton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers, published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2012. $15.99 (hardcover). Not really a book about jazz but I've included it here because it is written by the jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Basically a book of onomatopoeia where the sounds of a child's world represent the sounds of various musicial instruments.

Good Night Li'l Darlin' - by V. Kay McCrimon, illustrated by Pamela C. Rice, published by Verna Kay McCrimon, 2011. $20.00 (paperback) includes CD. A little girl spends time with her grandmother exploring the music of many jazz luminaries (Monk, Satchmo, Duke, Bird, Mingus, Cannonball, Ella, Sassy, Billie and more). Based on the jazz classic "Li'l Darlin'" by Neal Hefti, who composed it for the Count Basie Band. My first graders loved it and wanted to hear it again and again, both the book and CD. Beautiful illustrations of major African-American jazz greats! A Personal Favorite!

Sweet Music In Harlem by Debbie A. Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2004. Inspired by Art Kane’s now famous 1958 photograph of jazz musicians at a Harlem brownstone walk up, this book is a fictional story about musicians gathering for a photograph in Harlem as told through the eyes of a young boy who wants to play a clarinet. Mrs. Debbie Taylor was interviewed by my first grade class and has visited with the children in my school. She is a very effective communicator with children of all ages. Highly recommended. Be sure to refer to the wonderful interactive website Harlem.org when you read this book. A Personal Favorite!

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2012. A lovely tribute to the famous dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker. Vibrant, swirling illustrations and creative lyrical, rhyming text chronicle Josephine Baker's childhood and rise to fame despite the ugly obstacles of racism and Jim Crow laws.

Before John Was A Jazz Giant - by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls, New York: Henry Holt And Company; February, 2009. A brief, fictional account of how saxophonist John Coltrane incorporated the sights and sounds he heard as a child into his development as a jazz legend. Swirling pastel colors and soft brush strokes by Sean Qualls augments the tale quite beautifully.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children with CD: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat - by Nikki Giovanni. New York: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; October, 2008. While not a book specifically about jazz there are several overlapping confluences, most notably Oscar Brown, Jr's outstanding vocal of "Dat Dere" as well as the poetry of Langston Hughes and Eloise Greenfield among others. The bonus with this book is the CD. My first graders especially dugthe Sugarhill Gang and A Tribe Called Quest's "Ham 'N' Eggs."

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert A. Parker. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, A Division of Random House, 2008. A biographical account of the life of the great Art Tatum as a child growing up, told as a first person account. This picture book has some very appealing illustrations which appear to be water colors by the author, himself a jazz musician.

When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat by Muriel Harris Weinstein, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008. A young girl is exposed to scat by her mother who introduces her to the music of Louis Armstrong. During a dream the child hears the sounds and music from Satchmo and awakens bursting with scat lyrics of her own while sharing her new found excitement with all the kids in her neighborhood. Bright, colorful illustrations cheerfully support the rhyming blend of scat phonemes and child friendly "silly" lyrics: "...OOOO-blee BOOO-blee JIPPITY JOON WOBBLY BUBBLE'S a lilac moon ..." Cute.

Hot Jazz Special by Jonny Hannah. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005. Amazing poster art style illustrations and rhyming hipster lyrics accompany Henry (and the reader) at the "Body & Soul Cafe" where we are introduced to Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Walter Page, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Even the book jacket opens up into a poster.

Lookin’ for Bird in the Big City by Robert Burleigh. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2001. Fiction. Outstanding illustrations by Marek Los. A fictional account of what might have happened when the young Miles Davis came east to New York City to find Charlie Parker. This is one of my very favorites. A Personal Favorite!

The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub. Santa Rosa, CA: Tortuga Press, 2000. Fiction. Comes with CD. This book is solid! One of the best books on the market today about jazz for young kids. This is the story of a jazz fly who ultimately gigs on drums at a club following his encounters with several other creatures. The fly riffs off their contributions to create his own improvised session. Children love the rhyme scheme and enjoy scatting to the sounds of za ba za boo za ba zee za ro nee ... Read it aloud and children can't resist trying to repeat the syllables in song. The book is sold with a CD that compliments the text and informs the reader on how it should be read aloud rhythmically. I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches young children or has a child of their own that they want to expose to jazz. A Personal Favorite!

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. New York: Holiday House, 2006. A wonderful children’s picture book with outstanding text including historical references and representations of a range of jazz related styles (blues, stride, swing, bebop) and instruments (vocal, rhythm section, horns) told in catchy rhyme that expresses the rhythm of the music itself. One might infer from the rich colorful illustrations some of the more famous jazz musicians … Satchmo … Sonny Rollins … Mary Lou Williams … Billie …. Miles and Dizzy too! Mercy, mercy, mercy.

Nicky, the Jazz Cat by Carol Friedman. New York: Dominick Books, 2004. Fiction, The author photographs her own hip cat with noted jazz musicians including Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Lena Horne, Quincy Jones and Abbey Lincoln.

Dizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006. An outstanding autobiographical account of the life of the great jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie so appropriately written for young children. Youngsters will relate to the special emphasis that the author gives to Dizzy’s life as a child. The fabulous illustrations by Sean Qualls are a fitting complement to this rare achievement in the realm of jazz writing for children.

This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt, illustrations by R. G. Roth. New York: Harcourt, 2006. Written to the tune of “This Old Man...” this is a rhyming counting book, one to ten, nice collage illustrations invoking a jazz theme ... one can make out noted musicians such as Chick Webb, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus among others, nine in all including the famous tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

I See The Rhythm by Toyomi Igus. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 1998. Beautifully illustrated journey through time celebrating in prose and poetry the various styles of jazz from the blues, gospel and ragtime to bebop, the cool and beyond. Excellent treatment of the African origins of the music as well.

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Vibrant scratch-art illustrations accompany this picture book text on the life of Duke Ellington and his music.

Ella Fitzgerald, Vocal Virtuosa
by Andrea Davis Pinkney. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002. The story of the life of the Queen of Scat as told by a cat named “Scat Cat Munroe.” The book is divided into four sections called tracks. as if it were an LP recording: Hoofin’ In Harlem, Jammin’ at Yale.Stompin’ at the Savoy, and Carnegie Hall Scat (Dizzy Gillespie and Bebop). Spectacular scratch art fills out the illustrations.

Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop by Chris Raschka. New York: Orchard Books, 1992. A creatively illustrated fictitious picture book about the famous bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker that was inspired by the Dizzy Gillespie tune “A Night In Tunisia.” It took me awhile to figure out how to find the correct cadence and rhythm when reading the simple text aloud to young children but once I did it was a smashing success!

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps by Chris Raschka. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002. Inspired by the John Coltrane tune “Giant Steps” this book also incorporates creative illustrations to inform the text. In this book Coltrane’s composition is performed by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten!

Mysterious Thelonious by Chris Raschka. New York: Orchard Books, 1977. Fiction. Another of Chris Raschka’s jazzy interpretations inspired by the tune “Misterioso”, from the famous composer/pianist Thelonious Monk. This one should be read while listening to Monk's "Mysterioso, " or at least in conjunction with that tune. Kids love it! A Personal Favorite!

Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. Despite the title, this is not so much a book about jazz as it is about the culture of a people that have supported jazz. The context is the poetry of Ntozake Shange represented by a little girl, Shange herself, who depicts the rich environment of her home where famous people such as Ray Barretto, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Robeson and Kwame Nkrumah, among others, came to visit. While this picture book is beautifully illustrated with the very vivid, colorful oil paintings of Kadir Nelson the text will require some explanation for younger readers.

Hip Cat by Jonathan London, illustrated by Woodleigh Hubbard. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993. A very hip cat makes a journey to the city to play jazz. A colorfully illustrated, fictionalized account with lines like “The cats in the club said, ‘Go, cat, go!’”

Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora. New York: Scholastic Books, 1989. Fiction, Caldecott Honor Award winning book with black and white pen and ink illustrations. A fictionalized account of a young boy named Ben who jams on his air trumpet as he watches the jazz musicians from his fire escape perch as they gig at the Zig Zag Jazz Club. Ben eventually joins in with a real trumpet offered by one of the musicians.

The Sound That Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. New York: Walker and Co., 2000. Superb illustrations highlight the poetic text of this historical work on jazz for young children. From the origins of African village drum rhythms to the slave ships and auction blocks, from the fields of toil and song to the runaway flight to freedom, from the cakewalk and ragtime tunes and Delta blues to the gospel Churches, from New Orleans with Satchmo and Harlem with Duke, Count and Cab, from bebop at Birdland to the era of the boom box rappers, this book follows the trail of the music that was born in Africa.

Music Over Manhattan - by Mark Karlins, illustrated by Jack E. Davis. New York: Doubleday, 1998. A fictional tale of an underappreciated little boy who grows up to play a jazz trumpet and impress his family. Full color caricature illustrations depict the joy of "the most wonderful song in the world" played by the child and his uncle on a summer's day in Manhattan.

Summertime - by Dubose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002. Based on the famous musical, "Porgy And Bess," with beautiful illustrations by Mike Wimmer and lyrics to the song "Summertime."


The First Book of Jazz by Langston Hughes. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998. A concise narrative introduction to the history of jazz, the musical styles, musicians and instrumentation, through the swing era.

Jazz: My Music, My People by Morgan Monceaux, forward by Wynton Marsalis, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. This is an excellent 64 page reference book for children about the history of jazz and the major musicians. However, this is more appropriate for middle grade than primary grade children.

A-TISKET, A-TASKET by Ella Fitzgerald, illustrated by Ora Eitan. New York: Philomel Books, 2003. Vibrant collage illustrations of this classic song. Children love it! A Personal Favorite!

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls, Somerville, MA, 2010. Bright, vivid illustrations accompanies the story of how Ella Fitzgerald grew up in poverty ("raggedy" and "tough") to become one of the greatest jazz singers America has ever known. There's some questionable text ... "Her mouth was too big and her eyes were too squinty. Ella was not pretty, but she could dance" ... but overall the book is a celebration of the Queen of Scat.

If I Only Had A Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1997. Based on biographies of the great Louis Armstrong this book attempts to create a true to life account of the famous trumpeter growing up as a child. Colorful illustrations accompany a well written text accessible to primary grade children.

Satchmo’s Blues by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. New York: Doubleday Books, 1996 & 1999. Poignant story of the young Louis Armstrong and how he acquires his first horn.

Heaven’s All Star Jazz Band by Don Carter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. A fictional picture book about jazz in heaven and all the cats who play there “at a club called cotton.” Excellent illustrations including some pictures of classic LP covers with hip text references to musicians such as Dizzy, Miles, Mingus, Duke, Trane, Satchmo, Monk, Billie, Bird, Basie and Blakey.

God Bless The Child by Billie Holiday, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Harper Collins Publishers, 2004. This is the classic song of the same name beautifully illustrated by one of my very favorite artists Jerry Pinkney. Includes CD of the song by Billie Holiday. A Personal Favorite!

The Jazz Man by Mary Hays Weik, Woodcuts by Ann Grifalconi. Hartford: Atheneum, 1966, republished November 1993. Very touching and somewhat sad story of a troubled little boy and his encounter with the jazz men in a nearby apartment. A Newberry Honor book. More appropriate for children in third grade and up than for primary grade children.

Bebop Express by H. L. Panahi, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, May 2005. A fictitious train ride to cities where jazz is king -- from New York to Philly to Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans. A lively rhyming text with onomatopoeia generously added for effect ... Blam! Bop! Blam! Boom chicka boom chicka Wham! ker-Slam! -- compete with rich textured collage illustrations to make this book a winner with young children.

Jazz A B Z by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005. Spectacular poster-like illustrations in a classic style accompany rhythmic alliteration and sometimes poetic text that many young children will find difficult. For example the text on Charlie Parker includes the following: “Parker’s provocative personal life appalls the public. Perhaps he’ll prop up puerile popular pieces with plausible psychological possibilities.” I have used the book primarily for its illustrations and some of the more accessible text.

Once Upon A Time In Chicago: The Story of Benny Goodman by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter. New York: Hyperion, 2000. Very well written text with good illustrations on the life of Benny Goodman.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin, illustrations by Alexander Calder. New York: Welcome Books, 2001. Rich illustrations from the work of the famous artist Alexander Calder accompany scat singer Bobby McFerrin’s catchy lyrics to the popular song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” A Personal Favorite!

The Book of Rhythms by Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford Press, 1995. Introduction by Wynton Marsalis. This book is not so much applicable for young children as it is for teachers and parents. Good source book on rhythms found in nature, music, words and life in general.

Bring On That Beat by Rachel Isadora. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002. This book has lots of good black and white illustrations of jazz musicians in city setting with splashes of color for effect and told in a rhyme scheme.

Happy Feet by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Orlando, Florida: Gulliver Books, 2005. While not a book specifically about jazz it does capture the swing era dance scene at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Beautifully illustrated picture book for primary grade children.

I Live In Music edited by Linda Sunshine, designed by Eric Baker. Singapore: A Welcome Book, 1994. This book is a poem by the noted poet Ntozake Shange beautifully illustrated with the paintings by the famous artist Romare Bearden. Those especially interested in the art of Romare Bearden may want to reference another nicely illustrated children’s book, Me and Uncle Romie (by Claire Hartfield, pictures by Jerome Lagarrigue) or the Romare Bearden Foundation at http://www.bearden foundation.org

Theo And The Blue Note by Peter Kuper. New York: Viking-Penguin Books, 2006. A cat can play only one note and so he’s “kind of blue” until he takes a magic space ship ride to the moon and joins other animal musicians such as “Elephants Gerald,” “Charlie Porker,” “Max Roach, “ “Duck Ellington,” “Lionel Hamster,” and “Nat King Cobra” at the Apollo Club. Cute.

Rent Party Jazz by William Miller, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. New York: Lee & Low, 2001. Young Sonny Comeaux works for a coal man but it’s not enough to help his out of work mama pay the landlord. Facing eviction Sonny relates his woes to the jazz man “Smilin’ Jack” who shows Sonny just how he can raise the money for the rent by throwing a jazz rent party. Based on real life experiences this fictional account is replete with excellent illustrations. A Personal Favorite!

Bed-Stuy Beat: Sonny’s Song by Rose Blue, pictures by Harold James. New York: 1970, Franklin Watts. Walk along the streets with Sonny to the Bed-Stuy beat. Words and music accompany the text at the back of the book. Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant urban neighborhood is depicted and celebrated in pencil and/or charcoal. One of the first books I ever saw for children with a jazz theme. This one may well be out of print.