From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 3-8–Through a powerful marriage of rhythmic text and hip and surprising illustrations, the unorthodox creator of Bebop comes to life. Beaten regularly by his father, the young Gillespie found escape in a trumpet given to him by his music teacher. For the boy with the horn/fueled with a FIRE/that burned with every whooping,/JAZZ was like a fire extinguisher./It was cooooooool. He went on to become a crowd-pleasing performer, loving jazz because it ...was like breaking the rules,/like inventing new rules. Later, in New York, he began playing his own music. He called it Bebop: It was like he had taken a wrecking ball/and SMASHED IN/The House of Jazz,/till the walls came tumbling down…. Winter's lively writing pops with energy and begs to be read aloud. Qualls's acrylic, collage, and pencil illustrations swing across the large pages with unique, jazzy rhythms, varying type sizes and colors, and playful perspectives, perfectly complementing the text. This is a book that has a message: …the very thing that had gotten him into trouble/so much–/being a clown, breaking all the rules–/had become the thing that made him great…. But most important, it is a delightful story that introduces readers to an influential and unique American musician.–Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
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*Starred Review* There have been many books about jazz for young readers, a peculiar topic because, as a rule, it's not a form of music that children have an affinity for, if they are familiar with it at all. But, together, Winter and Qualls make it work. That's because Winter recognizes that if he can get readers interested in a character--in this case, trumpet revolutionary Dizzy Gillespie--they will want to learn more about his music. And Qualls is able to translate the story (and the music) into shapes and colors that undulate and stream across the pages with a beat and bounce of their own. The story of "one real cool cat" begins with a South Carolina childhood full of blue notes. Poor, abused, and angry, young John Birks Gillespie has his life turned around after a teacher gives him a trumpet. In a two-page spread, a river of red--his anger in living color--bursts out of Gillespie's new horn as he blows "REALLY LOUD." An explanation of jazz follows, and it is simple enough for the audience: "You took a melody and played it all different ways . . . changed every phrase--it was crazy." That is followed up with a bit more illumination dear to kids' hearts: "If a melody was like a rule, jazz was like breaking the rules, like inventing new rules. Jazz was like getting into trouble." Tracing Gillespie's ascent in the New York jazz world of the early 1940s, the story catches the excitement of the city, meshing it with the trumpeter's crazy personality (which earned him the nickname Dizzy); meanwhile, the artwork zigs and zags in color combinations that evoke the nightclub scene--greens, tans, a bit of peach, all counterpointed with muted grays. An author's note fills out Dizzy's story and lauds him for a personal life that was as composed as his music was wild. Turn up the stereo: kids will want to hear his music for themselves. Bill Ott
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