9 Books to Introduce Children to Jazz

Jazz music has inspired some wonderful children’s books. The booklist below features great read aloud books, including Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Ben’s Trumpet, and When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat. This booklist also includes autobiographies of five great jazz musicians: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. (So far, no one has successfully written a good children’s book about my favorite jazz musician, Billie Holiday.)

For those of you who would enjoy sharing videos of jazz musicians with your children, I have created a YouTube jazz playlist with videos selected to appeal to children. Take a look!

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka. A fun read aloud, with words and rhythm that give kids a sense of be bop: “Charlie Parker played be bop. / Charlie Parker played saxophone. / The music sounded like be bop. / Never leave your cat alone.” Raschka’s wonderful illustrations have movement that matches the words. Ages 0+

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney. Max (not Roach) imitates the sounds he hears in his neighborhood with his sticks. This wonderful, simple story shows kids that music can be found anywhere. Max creates music by pounding out rhythms on his thighs, a bucket, hat boxes, and more. Ages 2+

Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora. A sweet story about a young boy Ben who enjoys listening to jazz music and pretending to play the jazz trumpet. Ben frequently stops by the Zig Zag Jazz Club to listen to the musicians practice. One day the jazz trumpeter at the Zig Zag Jazz Club offers Ben encouragement and a special gift. Ages 3+

When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat by Muriel Harris Weinstein and R. Gregory Christie. A very fun story to introduce kids to Louis Armstrong and to scat. My kids love the silly bubble gum scat rhyme. The bold illustrations and bubble gum scat make this book a wonderful read aloud. Ages 3+

The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub and Karen Hanke. I did not appreciate this book until I read it with the accompanying CD. The story together with the CD introduce kids to the sounds various jazz instruments make and to the concept that jazz musicians improvise based on sounds they have heard. Ages 4+

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso by Andrea Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. An entertaining introduction to Ella Fitzgerald. Narrated by a fictional cat, Scat Cat Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso tells the tale of Ella’s initial efforts to become a professional dancer and ultimate success as a jazz vocalist. Ages 5+

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. Another superb biography by wife and husband, Andrea and Brian Pinkney. Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra tells the tale of Duke Ellington’s career, from his early rejection of the piano to his success as a band leader, pianist and composer. Ages 5+

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxanne Orgill and Leonard Jenkins. Describes how a very young Louis Armstrong first came to play the trumpet. Includes a scene where Louis shoots a gun in the air to celebrate New Years Eve and is sent to jail. Ages 6+

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert Andrew Parker. An inspirational biography of the phenomenal jazz pianist Art Tatum that focuses on Tatum’s early years. Despite being blind, Tatum taught himself to play the piano and is considered by some to be the best pianist ever. Ages 5+

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11 Responses to 9 Books to Introduce Children to Jazz

  1. Pingback: Marching to your own Jazzy Beat - Preschool Of Rock

  2. Hello! I am a jazz vocalist and children’s music songwriter, who performs K-12 school assemblies in the DC metro area. I just read your fantastic list and I plan to use all of your recommendations for the age-appropriate audience. Please check out my company, Kidz MusiQ Club (kidz+music+education = Jazzing Up Learning!) at http://www.kidzmusiqclub.com

  3. not a book, but Benjamin Briton’s album, “a Children’s Guide to the orchestra” is truly a guide.

  4. Pingback: Marching to your own Jazzy Beat! - Preschool Of Rock

  5. Pingback: New! Trombone Shorty | Delightful Children's Books

  6. Hi there! I’m a new author of a children’s picture book just published called “Journey to Jazzland” – I think this would fit in with your list – let me know how I can send it to you to review or get it listed :D thanks so much!

  7. Excellent list! Have you seen (listened to, or read) any of the Baby Loves Jazz books? I used to work in a kids bookstore and couldn’t keep these on the shelf. The illustrations are super-cute and the music is excellent. Very fun series. If you’re interested: http://www.babylovesjazz.info/

  8. Zoe says:

    #toestapping #hipswaying LOVE this list Amy (and the youtube playlist is great too – am jiggling away in front of my computer as I type!)

  9. Great books. Can I add one more? Mr Big.
    This is a fabulous story about the power of (jazz) music by Ed Vere.

  10. Claire Burns says:

    This is a great resource! I just started Jazz month with my students today. I am familiar with the Duke Ellington and His Orchestra book, but the others are new to me. I’m looking forward to checking out some of these! Thanks!

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