Sunday, 9 February 2014

Jazz it up! Ideas for Black History Month and Jazz Appreciation Month, plus more!

Hi everyone

I stumbled across the most amazing series of picture books which I just love, that may be useful for Black History Month (or African-American History Month which is celebrated in February) or for Jazz Appreciation Month (which is celebrated in April).  Free lesson plans for Jazz Appreciation Month are available here and  ideas for celebrating Black History Month can be found here.

I am joining up with Paula again for her Storybook Sunday.  Please click on the image below to check out the other picture books shared this week.
The picture books below have great rhythm and "scat" language, which I am sure students would love.  These titles come with a backing CD for reading along with the rhythm of jazz.  This sent me on a mission to find other companion texts with a jazz theme and that is my focus of today's post.  The first two titles are the ones from the series I have already mentioned:
I only have two titles in this series and I love them both equally.  The jazz phrasing in each text is based on scatting which was first applied by the early African-American musicians to jazz music.  These titles would be great for integrating children's literature, music and history.

When I was reading, "The Jazz Fly", by Matthew Gollub,  I made a connection to "The Wonky Donkey" by Craig Smith; "Tough Cookie" by David Wisniewski  and "Private I. Guana" by Nina Laden.  Clicking on the links above will take you to YouTube clips of these other titles.  Sometimes my connections are pretty eclectic, so perhaps you may have different ones.  You can check out resources based on "Tough Cookie" or "Private I. Guana" in my TPT store here. The "Private I. Guana" resource is part of my Detectives resource with the 4H reading strategy.
When reading, "Freddie Frog and The Flying Jazz Kitten" by Sharon Burch, I made connections to "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" when the elephant was crossing the bridge and thought this text would also be great for studying rhyming words, directional language and onomatopoeia.  I was thinking that students could improvise on this text using environmental sounds from the school grounds.  These are terrific texts for choral reading or readers' theatre in the middle years to support fluency.  The rhythm is infectious!

A sample video of "Freddie Frog and the Flying Jazz Kitten" can be viewed here - or scat singing of the story here.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did :) You can view a student performance of "The Jazz Fly" by students in Queens, New York, here or you can view a information about the genre of jazz here.

So then I started to investigate other picture story books that could be used as companion texts around the theme of jazz.  The titles reviewed in this post will enable you to integrate children's literature, music and history in a highly engaging and creative way!

1.  "Herman and Rosie" (2013) by Gus Gordon.  This is the story of two lonely characters in a large city.  Herman liked playing the oboe and Rosie loved listening to her old jazz records and singing in a jazz band.  They both liked watching films about the ocean.  This is a lovely tale about loneliness and friendship and how music can bring people together.

You can view a book trailer here.  The  background music is great!  Free teaching notes are available here and for all different year levels as part of Read for Australia here.

2.  "Cats' Night Out" (2010) by Caroline Stutson.  Set in the city, the cats start to groove to the beat on Easy Street.  This is a foot-tapping, finger-snapping counting book, where readers can count by twos and find the total number hidden somewhere on the page.  This text features cool cats, in pale pink tuxedos and poodle skirts who love to dance.  This is a terrific text for studying rhyming words and field-specific vocabulary, such as "samba", "boogie", "blues", "tango", "tabbies", "fox-trot", "rumba", "polka", "conga", "waltz" and "riff".  I had to really look closely to find some of the hidden numerals on each page!  A terrific text for counting by twos.

3.  "Hip Cat" (1993) by Jonathan London.  I just love the illustrations by Woodleigh Hubbard.  This text is about cool cats digging hot jazz - a story full of dreams.  The story has a really cool message which encourages children to do what they love and to work at it to the best of their abilities.  It is the story of a hip, saxophone-playing cat who heads to the big city to seek fame and fortune.  It also includes the language of scat.

4.  "Jazz Age Josephine" (2012) by Jonah Winter.  Based on the life of Josephine Baker (see YouTube clip here). Information about Josephine Baker, including project ideas, history and additional links can be found here.  From a literacy point of view, this text would be great for teaching adjectives, repetition and slang.  A story tinged with the sadness of racial discrimination, but also one of hope and overcoming the odds and overcoming poverty and racism.  A brief biography is included at the back of the book.

 5.  "This Jazzman" (2006) by Karen Ehrhardt. This is a terrific innovation on the traditional "This Old Man" with a jazz twist. You can view a YouTube clip of the song "This Jazzman" here. It would be a terrific mentor text for innovations and also for choral reading to develop fluency.  The music in the YouTube clip is fantastic, featuring many instruments used in Jazz.  A free curriculum guide and other links and information about the book is available here.  Readers are introduced to characters such as Stachmo, Bojangles and Charles Mingus, which provides a wonderful introduction and opportunity for further research.

6.  "The Bebop Express" (2005) by Steve Johnson.  In this picture book, a train makes its way from New York to New Orleans, celebrating jazz music along the way.   These notes include other possible companion texts not mentioned in this blog post.  Again, this text would be great for choral reading and also for studying rhyming words, verbs and topic-specific vocabulary, with wonderful illustrations featuring instruments used by jazz musicians.  You can view a YouTube reading of the text here.  It's super to demonstrate the rhythm of the text.  Free ideas for this book and others are included here as part of the Chickadee Awards

7.  "The Sound that Jazz Makes" (2000) by Carole Boston Weatherford.  The lyrics have a wonderful rhythm.  The story moves from the origins of jazz, through slavery to freedom and the emergence of jazz.   Carole Boston Weatherford's poetic text is perfectly matched with Eric Velasquez's powerful oil paintings to celebrate the history and legacy of jazz.  A YouTube reading of the text is available here.  This text again lends itself to studying rhyming words and topic-specific vocabulary.  The YouTube reading has wonderful background music relevant to different times in American African history.  The picture mentions some of the greats from the origin of jazz - another invitation to do further research, perhaps.  I just love this final quote, "Jazz is a downbeat born in our nation, chords of struggle and jubilation., bursting forth from hearts set free in notes that echo history."

8. "Jazz Playground"  is a musical compilation that introduces children to examples of the musical genre of jazz which began in the United States and has since spread around the world. Students visit nine countries on six different continents and hear some of the most common jazz instrument combinations (saxophone, piano, bass, drums, guitar) in addition to some more unique instruments including violin, flute and the West African balaf√≥n. There are many kinds of jazz including swing, ragtime, Latin, bebop and boogie woogie, but whatever style and whatever country or continent jazz comes from.  A free teaching guide for "Jazz Playground" is available here.

9. "Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane" (2008) by Carole Boston Weatherford is a picture book which explores how the sounds John Coltrane heard as a child influenced his musical compositions, playing, and style. You can listen to the first part of a documentary about John Coltrane's life here and the second part of the documentary here
Free lesson ideas are available here.

10. & 11. There are two different picture books with the same title "Jazz Baby" by Carole Boston Weatherford and "Jazz Baby" by Lisa Wheeler. A YouTube read aloud of the first text can be found here.  Free teaching notes for "Jazz Baby" and other titles including "Pete the Cat" are available here.  A song version of the second title can be found here, to the tune of "Rock Around the Clock".
 An annotated bibliography which includes some of these titles and many more is available here.

Even if you don't celebrate Black History Month or Jazz Appreciation Month, I hope you have found some ideas to integrate music, history and children's literature into your program.

I would love to hear from anyone who has used these picture books in their classroom, or any other ideas others have for inspiring children through music and children's literature. 

All the best


  1. What a wonderful post and collection of books! Thanks for sharing! I am going to give you a "shout out" on my Facebook page this morning at

    Well done!

  2. Thank you so much Jennifer! I really appreciate that, very, very much. Your message has made my day :) Thank you,

  3. You are amazing - your time management is inspirational - thanks for linking up
    Paula from Paula’s Place and iSURF Maths

  4. You are more than welcome Paula - thanks for the opportunity of linking up with you. I just love picture books, so this gives me an outlet to share companion texts that go together :) I may not be able to link up every week, but I do enjoy the research behind these posts and learning about new picture books helps feed my addiction :) Kylie