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John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover)) Hardcover – July 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This innovative visual deconstruction of one of jazz saxophonist Coltrane's most beloved compositions may be Raschka's (Mysterious Thelonious) most ambitious picture book yet. After a playful introduction ("Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book"), the unseen narratorconductor introduces the performers a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten a tongue-in-cheek nod to Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things"). The book does not require previous awareness of the jazz great's work, however. Each performer (representing percussion, bass, piano and sax) appears in a different color and shape (Raschka riffs on primary red, yellow and blue, and the basic square, triangle and circle). The performance begins, only to be interrupted when the kitten ("the melody on top of everything") takes steps a little too large ("People, people! What happened?"). Some coaching finally produces what Coltrane called "sheets of sound." Raschka's transparent watercolors layer colors and shapes the way a musician would notes and harmonies. Stunningly simple, the concept provides a compelling introduction to Coltrane's genius. Those who possess a little musical knowledge will delight in such arch references as "remixed by Chris Raschka" on the title page and the conductor's hilarious critique ("First of all, raindrops, you were rushing on page 19"). Even the jacket repeats the book's central conceit: a clear plastic wrap featuring the kitten, painted in thick black outline, overlays the other elements. A must for jazz enthusiasts and, for first-timers, a clever introduction to this wildly creative musical genre. Ages 4-7.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

PreSchool-Grade 5-Paw forward, the cat featured in Raschka's Simple Gifts (Holt, 1998) graces the clear cellophane jacket of this book. Her thick, black, inked contours overlay the watercolor, biomorphic forms on the book's front cover-a box, snowflake, and raindrop-the performers of Coltrane's jazz classic "Giant Steps." An offstage narrator/conductor prepares listeners for "swirling, leaping, tumbling 'sheets of sound.'" In the ensuing double spreads, the 4/4 tempo is introduced by a quartet of raindrops (drums); the foundation is then formed with an overlay of boxes (the bass). Snowflakes (the piano) build up next to represent harmony, and, at last, the kitten (sax) dances across the shapes, bringing the melody. The conductor, however, is not pleased, so after some comments, the piece is played again, winding down to a quiet curtain call of the four isolated images. The sequential design and layering of the organic forms are a creative, joyful, and energetic match for the pulsing momentum and resolution in the music. Raschka manages to distill body and soul and "remix" Coltrane's sound graphically, and the book offers an engaging intellectual and sensory experience. Presenting it with the music itself is a must. Bravo, maestro!-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Series: Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689845987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689845987
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 0.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Chris Raschka is one of our most ambitious children's book illustrators. When he's good, he's great, and he wins the Caldecott Award for best children's illustration. When he tries too hard, he's sly but opaque, clever but obscure. "Waffle," for example, plays with concept at the expense of clarity, and the result is a disappointing mish-mosh. This book is on the heady side, but musically-inclined youngsters guided by a talented teacher, parent, or other adult will enjoy's Raschka's imaginative deconstruction/reconstruction of Coltrane's magnificent jazz piece.

Raschka almost nails it with this visual and verbal description of saxophonist John Coltrane's incredible "Giant Steps," a landmark number of dizzying complexity, speed, and joy that most energetic younsters would like on its own. However, much of the appeal lies in a very intellectual exercise requiring levels of abstract thinking and reading ability beyond most of the young audience who will be attracted to the picture book format. However, teenagers, pre-adolescents with a musical bent, and adults will appreciate Raschka sensitive evaluation of Coltrane's talent. Younger kids might like the colorful (although not vividly colorful) pictures, and the pictures of the raindrops, snowflake, and cat. However, these by themselves are not that appealing, and the song's "narration" is clever but not a very interesting story. That is why the book doesn't quite work for early elementary school-age kids reading it on their own.

The most fascinating aspect of Raschka's "Giant Steps" is that he purposely draws the song all wrong! The book disappoints, and then tricks us, because Raschka knows exactly what he was doing.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When you review a picture book you have a responsibility to two kinds of consumers: The parents who buy the books and the children who read them. Now when I was a kid you probably could've handed me junky handwritten papers illustrated in crayon and I would've loved them. Children know what they do and do not like and it is the responsibility of their parents to choose well-written worthwhile books that will stand the test of time for their youngsters' brains. However, at the same time you don't want to be the kind of parent who only gets books for your kids that are "good' for them. I see these kinds of adults all the time. Unfortunate children are dragged to my library and forced to read books like "Gulliver's Travels" and "Treasure Island" which, while good, aren't the kinds of books that reluctant readers are instantly going to gravitate towards. The same goes for picture books. Sometimes I'll recommend a picture book that children may initially find dull or confusing simply because it's either a work of art or so well-written that I'm sure the children will grow to love it. Which brings me, in a definitely roundabout way, to "John Coltrane's Giant Steps". This is a book that undoubtedly seemed like a good idea when it was thought up. I mean, what could be cooler? You take a John Coltrane song and then using artist Chris Raschka's remarkable watercolor and inks show the song as a visual piece of work. The idea is sublime. The result is deathly dull and confusing for kids.

If you are not familiar with "Giant Steps" the song, you may wish to listen to it as you read this book. The book begins with the words, "Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By EM on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
We really liked reading John Coltrane's Giant Steps. We want to read it again and again. The pictures look very cool. We like the way that the illustrator created all the shapes like the box, the snowflake, and the raindrops. We also like the words that the author uses to describe the music.

Our favorite part was when the director tells the shapes and the kitten what they did wrong. Listening to the music really helped us understand the book. Some of us wish that the author had given us the cd with the book. Others of us think it was great the way it was!

Chris Raschka writes good books!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roz Levine on October 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition, "Giant Steps," performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten..." So begins the conductor's introduction to Chris Raschka's brilliant visual jazz rendition of Giant Steps. First he explains a little about who John Coltrane is, and how his music was composed, "...[he] wrote music which, in his hands, became swirling, leaping, tumbling "sheets of sound." That's what he called it. But why tell you when we can show you?" Then the composition begins with the raindrops, the tempo, "not too fast and not too slow." Next he layers the box, the base, "...the bottom. It's something to build on." Here comes the snowflake, the piano, "showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame." And last, the kitten, the melody, "watch her take some giant steps across the page." As Mr Raschka "conducts", problems begin to occur, the shapes and colors collapse, and he finally yells STOP! "People, people! What happened? Okay, okay, let's take a look at some trouble spots." After detailing when, where and how each shape went wrong, and giving constructive directions, the composition begins again. "Let's take it from page 14. Raindrop, box, snowflake, kitten. GO. Sheets of color. Sheets of sound. Bravo. Bravo, everyone." Mr Raschka's entertaining text, written in an engaging, conversational style, is informative and enlightening. His layering of shapes and colors provides a clever and creative visual understanding of jazz and John Coltrane's "sheets of sound.Read more ›
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John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))
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