Jazzmatazz!

The multitude of books that carried the glossy sticker “Jazz collection” in the children’s section at the local library piqued my interest. I thought it might be interesting to read a couple of picture books about this musical form to my children. As we read them, we absorbed a distinct flavor, me more consciously than them. And soon I realized that this flavor was unfailingly delivered in every picture book that we later devoured.


Title: Jazz Baby
Ages: 0-2
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Published by: Lee and Low Books Inc.

It starts out with an assembly of ethnically diverse children ready to make music and dance. Some of them swing and sway, jiggle and wiggle, bounce and boogie while the rest are working the instruments. The verses are small and catchy. They mention the trumpet, drum, piano and bass – the simplest introductory presentation of the most important components of Jazz music. The last spread shows a tired group plopped on the floor with droopy heads and stretched out legs. The author writes – When I wrote this swinging nursery rhyme, I set out to write a jazz pat-a-cake. And I hear the diaper and toddler find the rhythm infectious. Yes! Just saying Jazz baby Jazz baby is energizing for all ages!


Title: Bring On That Beat
Ages: 0-8
Author & Illustrator: Rachel Isadora
Published by: G.P.Putnam’s Sons

Sparing in words can be very powerful. That is exactly what this book is – a visual celebration of Jazz and Harlem in the 1930s. Rachel Isadora is a Caldecott winner and the work that brought her the award has already been reviewed here.

Isadora’s black and white oil paintings hold digitally rendered streaks and shapes in vibrant colors, a bold visual statement, strong enough to see Jazz as a force that transformed music and people. It is Harlem drenched in music. Three men playing Jazz under a streetlamp draw a crowd. Children and adults pause, stay and dance. Things heat up. Every roof top is soon humming and grooving and the town is Jazz-ing! Each spread carries a rhyme, probably kept simple to not distract the reader from the tempo the visuals are building. Duke Ellington, a Jazz icon is also included in the drawings, as a tribute. The book closes with the verse –

When you rap and you rhyme,
Remember that time –
When cats played the beat,
It was jazz on the street.

On the side are three present day youngster boys seated on the stoop in the Harlem neighborhood.


Title: Cool Bopper’s Choppers
Ages: 4-8
Author: Linda Oatman High; Illustrator: John O’Brien
Published by: Boyds Mills Press

Logic aborted, this is hilarious! And you’ll see how.

Cool Bopper plays Jazz on his sax in a night club. He easily gets people swinging with his groovy music. But one day, during his act, his dentures fly out of his mouth and land on a bee-hive like wig of a dancing lady, from where it drops into the toilet bowl, gets flushed away and ends up deep under the ocean. Cool Bopper loses his magical music, groans and moans. Fired by his boss, he goes to the seashore where he hears his own tunes coming out of the waves. He finds his choppers and gets back his upbeat music!

Free flowing ink and watercolor illustrations also seem to sway and groove, aptly supporting the crazy incidents in a musician’s life. The highlight is the jazziness the verses carry to neatly lay out the details of the story of a jazz player that began like this – Cool Bopper was a bebopper in the Snazzy Catz Jazz Club.

A-BOP-BOP-BE-BOP, A-BOP-BOP-BOP!


Title: Willie Jerome
Ages: 5-8
Author: Alice Faye Duncan; Illustrator: Tyrone Geter
Published by: Macmillan Books for young readers

It is summer in the city. Willie Jerome plays hot bebop style jazz with his trumpet, on the rooftop all day long. And his sister Judy bops to his music all day long too. But everyone else calls it noise! The shop keeper, the other brother, the neighbor and even their mother! Willie Jerome, I just wish I knew another somebody who loves and understands your sizzlin’ hot jazz the way I do, Judy screams out to her brother who never gives up and continues to blow his horn on the rooftop. When Mama tries to put an end to the “noise” that evening, Judy begs her to stay calm and listen. Does Mama agree?

Perseverance to succeed amidst resistance, is the beautiful message. Pastel acrylics paint the picture of a hot day in an urban African-American neighborhood. The language that is typical to the people, lends authenticity to the story of Willie Jerome.

All these books imparted a very convincing musical attitude and at the same time transmitted a distinctive cultural vibe. The combination is intriguing and at the end, very satisfying.

Pictures Courtesy Publisher / Author / Book store websites. Thanks!

The Other Side


Title: The Other Side
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B.Lewis
Publisher: G.P.Putnam’s Sons, NY
Picture Courtesy – Amazon.com

“There is no school on Monday, no mail on Monday. And do you know why?”, began the teacher. I was at my daughter’s kinder room when it was my turn to help out, and I overheard the teacher beginning to read a book on Martin Luther King. I could not take my eyes off of the little ones’ faces, curious to know how they would absorb it all. They listened with intent. Silence ensued. And then they dispersed. I felt cheated when I could not comprehend what went through their minds. That afternoon I walked back home wondering how I could talk to my daughter on what Martin Luther stood for and how I could present the historical significance that surrounds him. The customary discomfort that preceded talks (with her) on “unhappy” truths, was again telling me that I was soon going to be guilty of adulterating the innocent mind. Even though, in most cases, the terminating message was good.

So, when I was at the library this weekend, I nonchalantly scanned the shelves for something besides King’s biography, and something that did not scream strong language or characters. The Other Side turned out to be the kind of book that would be an ally in my mission. In fact, it won me over to find a spot on Saffron Tree to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today!

The opening spread, in stunning yet soft water colors, takes us to a flowery patch amidst lush greenery and scattered houses. A lengthy fence catches the eye in the middle of the rural scene. Just as we warm up to the narrative of a little African-American girl, Clover, we get involved in the incident that occurred one summer, when she noticed a white girl on the other side of the fence, staring at her. The fence is a repeating detail in the illustrations on most pages. Annie, is the lonely girl across the fence yearning to be included in the outdoor games Clover and her little group play all day. Clover also finds herself admiringly looking at Annie’s free-spiritedness. And then one day, things change. Clover and Annie exchange smiles and names. Annie invites Clover to join her on the fence. The girls exploit the technicality that their mothers’ never opposed their sitting on the fence. A fence like this was made for sitting on, we hear Annie say. By the end of that summer a friendship is born. It is not long before Annie is seen playing together with the rest of Clover’s gang. And the book ends with this –

“Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down”, Annie said. And I nodded.

“Yeah,” I said. “Someday”.

Yes, the fence is the metaphor. But the literal meaning sufficed. There was no need to mention civil rights or segregation. A warm setting, with girls her own age or older brought the much needed comfort, and kindled curiosity in my 5 yr old. I embraced the subtlety and capitalized on the situation. I mentioned King. She stared at the portrayals of Annie and the girls carelessly sitting on the fence and told me a few things. I think she will understand his context now.

The book reminded me that children have the power to make a change. Innocence is probably the secret. The story in The Other Side, I thought, brought Matin Luther King’s dream closer to reality.

Jacqueline Woodson’s another book “Coming On Home Soon” has been reviewed earlier, read it here – http://www.saffrontree.org/2007/05/coming-on-home-soon-by-jacqueline.html

Monsoon Afternoon


Title: Monsoon Afternoon
Author: Kashmira Sheth
Illustrator: Yoshiko Jaeggi
Publisher: Peachtree
Age Group: 4-8 years

Soft watercolors all over, stroked elegantly to reveal pleasing sights of peacocks, cows, and paper boats. A city drenched in monsoon. And that is not the only picture this book paints, there are images that bear the warmth of a special relationship.

This book helps kids get acquainted with an Indian setting and partake in the experiences that stem from the smell of moist terrain typical of monsoons in India. The story also unravels a treasured bond between a boy and his grandfather. The little boy is looking around for familial playmates, just as the first drops of rain hit the earth. His efforts in vain, we see grandpa appear from behind with a tempting offer to sail paper boats. A monsoon afternoon well savored – swinging from aerial shoots, witnessing a peacock’s glorious spread, and hopping on to dadaji.

Our little friend, now comfortably settled on his old man’s shoulders, turns inquisitive. Did monsoon come when you were little? he asks. Will monsoon come when I become a dadaji? Our eyes drift to the corner in sepia where dadaji as a little boy is swinging from a banyan tree. I closed the book with a good read of the author’s notes on her monsoons in India, what the rains meant to her and what they brought with them – the mango season, time for indoor games, and the season for sicknesses too. A great way to talk to children about ways of life when seasons change in a land different from their own. Rains always excite children, and in this book they can find joy in knowing how other kids spend their rainy afternoons in faraway places.

Mrs.McCool And The Giant Cuhullin – An Irish Tale


TITLE: Mrs.McCool and the Giant Cuhullin
AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Jessica Souhami
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Company
AGES: Good for “Read Aloud” and “Read it Yourself”.

The joy of folktales is something that we recently discovered at our home. Stepping aside from classics and contemporary humor , we seem to embrace folktales, quite effortlessly. The book that I have with me is an Irish folklore, bearing a tale very similar to the ones that were orally passed on to me while I was growing up.

The central characters in this tale are legendary giants Cuhullin and Finn McCool. Mrs. Oona McCool is the one with the brains and quite intuitively, also the one to save her husband oftentimes from Cuhullin. Now, Cuhullin has a magic finger that makes him strong and Finn has a magic thumb that bestows upon him, the power to foresee things. Finn uses his magic thumb and announces (in jitters of course) the impending arrival of Cuhullin. Mrs.McCool to the rescue! A simple story you think, buckle up for a good dose of slapstick humor! Children will be laughing boisterously as they see fun illustrations and hear goofy dialogues.

Mrs.McCool is quick witted. She drops Finn with a bonnet in a cradle and welcomes Cuhullin for tea. She makes unreasonable, rather unrealistic (not that there is realism to worry here) requests that demand extreme brawn from Cuhullin. And this she does, so nonchalantly that Cuhullin is led to believe that the tasks are all a routine in the McCool household. Just look at the front cover – there is Cuhullin trying to lift the house so Oona can broom off the dust underneath! Here is also a sample of silliness to taste – “Goodness!” exclaimed Cuhullin. “Look at the size of him! Look at the moustache! If this is the baby, what must Finn be like?” , as Cuhullin mistakes Finn for a real baby. He also ends up sticking his finger in the “baby’s” mouth, only to have his magic finger bitten off! Petrified, the shrinking Cuhullin runs amok, leaving a cheery couple dancing!

It was nothing, dear Finn,” said Oona.”Big is Big. But brains are better!” . Probably the profound truth that this story intended to convey to little children and just as the message drives home, you are still not really far from the jocund moments. The magic of folktales it is. Loony and wacky, oh yeah! But did you also realize the feminist undercurrent, the portrayal of the woman endowed with brainpower, the one to thwart a giant – amazing to think of it when there is still so much gripe in contemporary children’s literature about the roles women or girls are given! Quick paced with bright collage like illustrations, this book is wonderful to be read aloud to children!

There is never enough said about folktales. Flavorful, informative and historic, with so much room for imagination. These hand me downs from wonderful storytellers, sometimes didactic and sometimes just for laughs. Timeless.

THE SEED (a bilingual book from India)


Since there is motivation galore right now at Saffron Tree, it could not get easier for me to slouch down to write, combating the chaos generated in the room by my DH and his little associate. The book I am going to review is bilingual, meant for the 3+ age group, that I picked up during my trip to India last year. The two languages involved are Tamil (a South Indian language which is spoken in the state of Tamil Nadu, which also happens to be my native language) and English. It is published by Tulika . Tulika also has the equivalent of it in 6 other Indian languages. The title of the book is THE SEED, vidhai , written and illustrated by Deepa Balsavar,Tamil by Karkuzhali. Check out http://www.tulikabooks.com/bilingualbooks6.htm for your language.

A small girl chances upon a tiny seed, puts it in a pot, waters it and takes care of it. The ecstasy from seeing it sprout soon morphs into heaps of anticipation. Will it have flowers? Will it have fruits? Will it grow tall? Will it stay small? are some of the questions that she tries to find answers to, from her near and dear. The climax is that the little girl ceases to question and realizes that what it turns out to be or how it looks like doesn’t really matter to her (and that she will always love it)!

Colorful and child-friendly illustrations, an Indian backdrop, some stylish art of botany encompassing minimal text. Neat. There is always a BUT – (a long pause), can’t quite put my finger on it though. Moving on with the kudos, I really liked it for the incident that unraveled the thoughts of the deceptively little mind. The book has a dozen simple sentences, in English, on the top of the page and the Tamil equivalent of it at the bottom. The language, at least in the Tamil version, is very conversational and hence practical. Although I did not purchase the book in a vigorous attempt to make my daughter speak/write/read Tamil, the fact that she has, quite effortlessly, picked up the equivalents to seed, water, sun, pot, tree, tall, small in a second language does make me feel good. Bilingual books have come to be embraced by many, especially by people raising children away from ‘home’. The Seed is right for the right reasons.

Babies

BABIES was published in 1963. The author is Gyo Fujikawa, who was raised in a Japanese household in California.

This book is something that you and your baby can enjoy together. It can also help a toddler prepare for the arrival of another newborn in the house by walking him/her through the world of babies.

I like the book because it exudes sweetness, it is warm and tender. Pictures of babies that make you smile, that make you appreciate how they make even the mundane things in life a pleasure. Inside, is a portrayal of everyday activities that babies do – crying, getting changed, eating, sleeping, drinking and the like. There are drawings of cheerful babies running around, naughty lilliputians preoccupied with mischief-making and the really cherubic ones busy with acts of goodness. There is neither a storyline nor a moral. However it succeeds in what, I think, it was intended to do – make babies relate to other babies and see their own world unravel before them. What the simple illustrations do for the adult is evoke the realization how very elementary things like holding a spoon or sliding a sock up the leg are actually huge successes in their petite innocent world!

The book was actually considered revolutionary, more so around the time it was published. Stumped? Here is the icing on the cake – the book shows babies of different races playing together and hugging each other! Gyo Fujikawa’s book depicting ethnically diverse children coexisting happily, in a way, opened the door to many more multicultural pictures books. It was for this reason that I felt immensely pleased when I picked up this book, even though this issue was much beyond the cognizance of my infant daughter!

There are so many good books out there for toddlers, preschoolers and young adults but what can I read to my baby – BABIES by Gyo Fujikawa. Enjoy!