Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie

Cover image of Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory ChristieWheeler, Lisa. Jazz Baby. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2007.

Plot:  “Bitty-boppin’ Baby” claps, dances, and eventually snoozes to the jazzy music-making of his family and neighbors.

Setting: Urban

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: jazz, music, singing, dancing, family, neighbors, community

Literary Quality: With boisterous rhymes and toe-tap worthy rhythms, Lisa Wheeler’s text bounces off the page and begs to be read aloud: “Mama sings high. Daddy sings low. Snazzy-jazzy Baby says, “GO, MAN, GO!” So they TOOT-TOOT-TOOT and they  SNAP-SNAP-SNAP and the bouncin’ baby bebops with a CLAP-CLAP-CLAP!” R. Gregory Christie’s gouache illustrations bring further music to the page with their depictions of a multi-generational family passing around a happy, spunky baby. Warm colors outlined in broad-stroked lines that contrast against plentiful whitespace, these paintings carry forth the playfulness and energy of the narrative. As the story winds down and the “Drowsy-dozy Baby” drifts off to sleep to the soothing arms, smiles, and voices of his family, readers will be reluctant to return from this imaginative celebration of music and love that transports and inspires.

Audience: I would recommend this book to readers ages 1-8. A perfect read-aloud for a classroom or story time, but with family at the center of it, a great book for the home, as well.

Personal reaction: Picture books that take on music and sound are my favorites, and Jazz Baby ranks among the top of that list. It is fun to read, to actually say the words which tickle your mouth and in tempos that get your body itching to move.  This story is one of my son’s favorites, as well. At 18 months, he dances (bounces) when we read it, and claps and chimes in with an enthusiastic “OH YEAH!” at the end. In other words, he has been converted to a jazz baby, himself.


Music, Summer Camp, and Motherhood: A review of Rise Up Singing by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson

Cover of "Rise Up Singing"Blood, Peter & Annie Patterson, eds. Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook. 15th ed. Illustrated by Kore Loy McWhirter. Introduction by Pete Seeger. Bethlehem, PA: Sing Out, 2004.

Description: Rise Up Singing, first published in 1988, is a songbook that, as the cover describes, contains the lyrics, musical chords, and sources to over 1200 songs. The songs are organized into themes that the book explores alphabetically, beginning with “America” and finishing with “Work.” In between you’ll find a huge range of categories, from “Farm & Prairie” to “Mountain Voices,” from “Good Times” to “Hard Times & Blues.” Themes of travel, the sea,

Sample image of a page from "Rise Up Singing"

Here is an example of the page layout. This is from the section of “Hope” songs, and on this page is one of my favorites, “Julian of Norwich.”

lullabies, hope, love, and struggle are other examples. The songs are organized alphabetically within each theme or chapter, as well. Six indices make this songbook particularly useful, and these are: Artist Index, Cultures Index, Holidays Index, Musical Index, Subject Index, and Title Index. The Title Index helpfully includes titles that you might think songs are called by. This book will help save you from awkward moments of humming through lines of lyrics you can’t remember (or from making up your own lyrics to fill in the blanks of your memory, not that that’s always a bad thing), and its bountiful selection is sure to teach you some new tunes, too.

Personal Reaction: I’m a camp girl, myself. I went to Camp Betsey Cox in Pittsford, Vermont for thirteen years (a couple as a daycamper, which I’m not sure is an option anymore, a couple as a counselor-in-training and counselor). Why is this relevant? Because summer camp furnishes you with a lifetime supply of songs: silly songs, rounds, active movement songs, and lullabies. Indeed, Camp Betsey Cox is fondly known as “the camp with a song in its heart.” Even as a babysitter I found my musical camper background always coming in handy, but honestly, learning all those songs might have been the best preparation for motherhood that I had. And motherhood is the excuse I’ve been looking for my entire life to sing those well-loved tunes whenever I damn well please! But with the vast number of songs I know comes an equally large number of lyrics I’ve always fudged my way through or long since forgotten. This book, a gift a number of years ago (I’m on my second copy now because my first disappeared during the misadventure that was college dorm life), has come to my rescue. It’s more than just a rescuer, though. I’ve spent hours poring over the pages and singing to myself or with friends. Friends have joyfully picked out songs they love and taught them to me, because nope, even thirteen years at summer camp did not teach me ALL the songs. This songbook is truly a treasury, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves to sing, is a parent, is a teacher or librarian, or yes, who went to summer camp.

My Abuelita by Tony Johnston and Yuyi Morales

Cover image of My Abuelita by Tony Johnston and Yuyi MoralesJohnston, Tony. My Abuelita. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Photographed by Tim O’Meara. Boston: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2009.

Plot: Abuelita is old, round, wrinkly, and forgets to put clothes on in the morning! She yodels and booms and says that “words should be as round as dimes and as wild as blossoms blooming” as she gets ready for work each morning.  What type of work could she possibly do?!

Setting: Modern United States

Point of View: 1st person (Abuelita’s grandson)

Theme: grandmothers, family, morning routines, singing, storytelling, imagination, nontraditional families, Mexican-Americans

Literary Quality: In this story, Johnston plays with words and sounds as much as Abuelita does. Both the text and illustrations infuse My Abuelita with a lively energy that will delight and captivate young readers and listeners. Each character — the grandson narrator, Abuelita, and the cat, Frida Kahlo — has a strong and distinct presence in the story with unique characteristics that bounce this picture book into life with humor and lightheartedness. Morales’ colorful mixed-media illustrations made from clay, wire, felting wool, paints, fabric, wood, metals, and Mexican crafts are the perfect complement to this quirky, fun celebration of family, breakfast, and storytelling.

Cultural Authenticity: Tony Johnston lived in Mexico for 15 years and has devoted many of her books to Mexican subject matter. Johnston is also a storyteller in her own right and a prolific writer. Yuyi Morales was born and raised in Mexico, moving to the United States as a young mother without a work permit or any English-speaking ability. She has testified to the assistance (and inspiration) of the picture books at her local library in overcoming these challenges. Both the author’s and illustrator’s life experiences contribute to the authenticity of this story. Other details such as the nontraditional family (grandson living with grandmother) further enhance a sense of authenticity.

Audience: Ages 3-7. This story has broad appeal and makes for a fabulous read-aloud.

Personal reaction: I originally happened upon this book because as a fan of Yuyi Morales’ work, and these illustrations are very different than other books of hers that I was more familiar with (such as Little Night and Los Gatos Black on Halloween). I found the combination of illustrations and text in this story to be just outstanding. I loved that while the story has universal themes (morning routines, storytelling, grandmothers), it easily incorporates Mexican-American ideas and characters, as well as a nontraditional family structure. The visuals and sounds make for a wonderfully spirited story.