by Roxane Orgill; illustrated by Francis Vallejo
Candlewick Press, 2016.
Picture book, informational, poetry
2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award
Interest level: Grades 5 and up
Reading level: 4.7
5 out of 5 stars
In 1958, in front of a nondescript brownstone in Harlem, a man named Art Kane managed to gather 58 jazz musicians, and using a borrowed camera, captured one of the most iconic photos that would symbolize the “Golden Age of Jazz.” In the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Roxane Orgill tell us that “the poems in this collection were all inspired by Art Kane’s photograph Harlem 1958. The verses about the musicians are based on fact” (p. 43).
Orgill has recreated that day back in 1958 through a series of free verse poems. She begins by focusing on the photographer, Art Kane, and how he is alone on the street, wondering if anyone at all will show up. Subsequent poems focus on the arrival of some of the jazz artists, and some poems depict funny scenes involving the neighborhood children who hung around the location and were able to interact with the musicians. The free verse style of the poetry, combined with the slightly abstract style of illustrations, provides a reading experience that is both relaxed and slightly chaotic at the same time. It is laid back and free flowing, much like jazz music itself.
While reading this book, I was inspired to search for and listen to the jazz recordings of the artists in the book, and I am sure I am not the only one who will be inspired to do this. This book would make an excellent accompaniment to a program in jazz studies.
The topic and reading level of the poetry make this a picture book that is intended for an older reader. Kane’s Harlem 1958 photograph is included, as well as an Author’s Note, biographies of the featured musicians, source notes, and an extensive bibliography. The Author’s Note does a very good job being honest with the reader and highlighting areas where certain events or people have been fictionalized.
Overall, this is an exceptionally well done informational text that is very creative in the way that the author and illustrator have depicted the events of the day and the artists that participated.
To watch and listen to a performance by Count Basie: http://viewpure.com/tP1nYX6SITI?start=0&end=0
eJazzLines has lots of Jazz resources, including books about Jazz that are organized by age group: http://www.ejazzlines.com/
Connections to Indianapolis — Indianapolis has a very rich jazz heritage and has been the home to some well-known jazz musicians. Learn more about jazz in Indianapolis.
A Great Day in Indy: In 2008, photographer Mark Sheldon recreated the famous Harlem 1958 featuring over 100 Indiana musicians. View Indy 2008
Discover the members of the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame
NPR provides a look at the history of the Indianapolis jazz scene: The Once-Thriving Jazz Scene Of … Indianapolis?