Author: Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator: Don Tate
Publisher: Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2011
Genre: Picture book, fictionalized true story
Audience Age: 6 to 12
Themes/Topics: jazz, classical music, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite
Opening Sentences: In 1960 Las Vegas was the land of opportunity—a new frontier in the world of entertainment. All the stars were there: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and more. Perhaps the brightest star of all was Duke Ellington, an American pianist, composer, and big-band leader.
Synopsis: Duke Ellington was a popular star in jazz in 1960. He and his best friend, Billy Strayhorn, were always looking to compose and arrange new songs to expand Duke’s repertoire and reach. Billy suggested Duke create a jazz interpretation of the popular Nutcracker Suite. Their record producer wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but they won him over.
Then they had to win over Duke’s orchestra, who were even harder to convince than the producer. When they caught the feeling of the Suite, though, they got on board. Duke and Billy took the familiar melodies and gave them a fresh interpretation, even new names to suit jazzy renditions – the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes a West Indian starlet named Sugar Rum Cherry, for example.
Anna Celenza is an expert in bringing musicians and their compositions to life in her books (she has an entire series, most of which look at classical composers). The book includes a CD of the music, as do all the books in the series.
Although this is a picture book, it has appeal for older kids, and would be a great addition to a music class.
Activities/Resources: It would be great to first listen to the traditional Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, then listen to Duke Ellington’s version, and compare the two. Kids could describe the images that occur to their minds as they listen to the two pieces of music, the feelings that the music conjures up within them.
Here’s another review of the book, from a fantastic-looking blog called The Picnic Basket Blog.
The author’s website will show you the many books she has written. (Unfortunately, the video she links to regarding this book is no longer available.)
Availability: Readily available – check your local bookstore, or find it through IndieBound.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”