Taylor, Debbie A. 2004. SWEET MUSIC IN HARLEM. Ill. by Frank Morrison. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 1584301651 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-6]
In 1958, a photojournalist snapped a picture of fifty-seven of the greatest jazz artists standing in front of a brownstone in Harlem. The photo inspired the author to create this story of C.J., an aspiring clarinetist, and his Uncle Click, a once-famous jazz musician, preparing for a photo shoot. Uncle Click wants his signature hat for the picture, because “it’s not everyday a Harlem trumpet player gets his picture taken.” So, C.J. must help his forgetful uncle find the misplaced hat before the photographer arrives. While retracing his uncle’s steps, C.J. learns that his uncle is very absentminded but also quite popular. Indeed, many neighbors are anxious to lend themselves for the photograph, too!
The graffiti style of the acrylic paintings effectively conveys the setting of the story. The expressions on the faces of the characters work well with the authentic dialogue of the story. The reader truly enjoys the montage of men, women and children that wind up in the photograph. The subjects of the actual inspirational photo are identified in a fascinating author’s note that follows the story and should definitely be included as part of a read-aloud. This picture book debut for both Taylor and Morrison proves that a black and white snapshot can arouse a vivid imagination.
Display antique black and white photos with the caption, “What story do these pictures tell?” Invite readers to imagine about the details of the photos and to compose a short story that could accompany one of the pictures.
Choose one or more of the famous musicians from the actual photo in the author’s note. Conduct research to determine what instrument they played and what songs they recorded. If possible obtain a copy of one or more of the songs to play aloud.
Other books about jazz:
Isadora, Rachel. BEN’S TRUMPET, VOL. 1. ISBN 0688109888
Raschka, Chris. CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BE BOP. ISBN 043957823X
By Rebecca S. McKee