Monday, February 14, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz with 21 Activities (For Kids series)Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz with 21 Activities Stephanie Stein Crease

I'm still working through my backlog of Cybils 2009 reviews-- trying to turn my notes into why or why not a book was on my short list into an actual useful review is hard y'all!

Anyway, this is a biography of the great American composer and band leader, Duke Ellington.

It's comprehensive and does a good job of tying the changes in Ellington's life and career in with the broader social changes happening at the same time. There are several pull-out boxes with extra information on everything from new advances in related technology and biographies of the musicians and composers Ellington worked with to information on broader trends of the time.

The other thing this book has is 21 activities that readers can do to explore different parts of Ellington's story. These activities include everything from baking corn bread (a popular rent party food during the Harlem Renaissance) and designing album covers to building instruments and writing your own jazz improvisations.

Overall though, I found the book uneven. It was interesting, but the tone often seemed to be talking down to kids. Kinda like 'and then Ellington did this! Wasn't that neat?' One random example can be found on page 19 "Many of you might be scratching your heads by now. What kind of role model was Ellington anyway? A high school dropout? A ladies' man? Today, leaving high school would be considered a mistake with a capital "M"! But times were very different then."

Also, I couldn't tell which age group the activities were for. Anything involving a stove or exacto knife was labeled "adult supervision required" and some included blowing across bottle tops and changing the water level to change the sound, or making a toilet-paper tube rhythm shaker. But a lot of the music-based activities assumed a pretty solid background in performance and theory-- like being able to sight-sing or knowing what a B flat 7 chord is. And, when Stein did try to explain more complicated theory concepts (like syncopation) I thought they were confusing, and I'm an adult with many years of music theory study under my belt.

Overall though, I think kids will find it an interesting read, and it's a different type of biography that might appeal to kids who don't like to/want to read a biography, and this time of year, EVERYONE has a biography project to do.

Today's nonfiction round up is over at Wrapped in Foil. Be sure to check it out!

Book Provided by... the publisher, for Cybils 2009 consideration

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1 comment:

Roberta said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I love the hands-on aspect of Chicago Review Press, but lack of clarity of audience is a common comment about their books. For kids who learn by doing, which are most children I think, these are treasures.