Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How to Read Aloud a Book about Jazz When One has a Tin Ear

Six-plus years of piano lessons and one traumatic year of ballet lessons were wasted on me because I have no rhythm and my ability to memorize is not good. Nor am I able to carry a tune. My youngest, who happens to have perfect pitch told me, "No sing, Mommy!" whenever I tried to croon at him. Yet, I do love listening to music and admire those who play, dance and perform. 

Some years ago, I came across the book, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, written and illustrated by a favorite of mine, Chris Raschka. I read through the simple text and decided against using it as a read aloud. Too short, too non-sensical. I didn't get the book. Some years later, I discovered that Live Oak Media produced an audiobook and checked it out. 

Wowzers! I suddenly got the book! There was no way I could ever do justice to the rhythm and delightful playfulness of Raschka's words by doing a straight read aloud, so I shared the audiobook with my elementary classes. This gave me a unique opportunity to really observe each student during read aloud. In each class, there was at least one to whom the music spoke. He or she could not resist moving to the music.

When I made the move to a fifth through eighth grade middle school and a totally flexible schedule, I did not have any opportunities to revisit the book. I did loan the set to the ELL teacher when she mentioned that she was introducing jazz to her students. This year, I have been working with a small, self-contained class and after they seemed to enjoy Bird & Dizz a few weeks back, I dug out Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. 
by Chris Raschka. unpgd. Music Maker Series. One book and one compact disc. Performed by _____ . Live Oak Media, July, 2000. 9780874996692.

The bright palette of the illustrations pop and even the typography gets into the act as the font size changes according to the mood.

I came across this during the search of my shelves for Charlie Parker Plays Be Bop in my home library:
Jazz by Walter Dean Myers. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. Performed by James "D Train" Williams and Vaneese Thomas. Live Oak Media, September, 2007. 9781430100225.

The fifteen poems in this collection required a lot more time and attention. We split the reading over two periods. The volume begins with a brief introduction to provide historical and musical context. The poems and paintings that follow are visual and aural feasts. Myers senior's poems vibrate with rhythm and exude energy and joy. The poems are perfectly married to Myers junior's evocative paintings. The palette is bold, thick outlines lend a sense of movement and playfulness. The background jazz music of the production gets the foot a-tapping and the performances by Mr. Williams and Ms. Thomas are stellar. No wonder it won an Odyssey Award! A glossary and detailed timeline conclude this wonderful introduction to a truly American musical genre. 

I have long been a fan of audiobooks and have two boxes full of books on cassettes stored in my basement to prove it. Reading with one's ears is reading. In this case, reading these books with my ears helped me understand jazz. I highly recommend sharing these wonderful audiobooks with your students.

No comments:

Post a Comment