King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin (Stephen Costanza)

Hello, friends! Our book today was King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza, a look into the early life and career of the American composer and pianist.

Born into a labor-class black family in the very recently emancipated state of Texas, Scott took an early interest in music and sound. His entire family had a passion for music, and every member played an instrument. While Scott’s father encouraged his son to work for the railroads – one of the few industries that offered steady work for black men at the time – Scott’s mother encouraged his creative talents, trading cleaning services with a piano teacher for her son’s lessons. Scott left home to pursue his music, playing in saloons, honky-tonks, and cafés, where his unique original songs earned the praise of patrons. Eventually, Scott settled in Missouri, attending college, teaching piano, and playing at a local club called the Maple Leaf. Transposing his unique style onto paper for the first time, he had a few duds before composing his most famous song, one that would go on to transform popular music: “Maple Leaf Rag”.

Informative and visually stunning. This picture book biography does a wonderful job of introducing Joplin, the times he lived in, and the formation of his unique musical style. Describing ragtime – the genre Joplin played a major part in bringing to popularity – as a patchwork, Constanza cleverly weaves the composer’s early influences into his life story, from the work songs and spirituals of his youth, to the Germanic songs his father learned under slavery, to the mainstream instrumentals he learned as a student. Music can be difficult to convey in book form, but the mixture of Costanza’s dynamic text, strategic use of emphasis and onomatopoeia, and dramatic, colorful illustrations creates a title that looks and reads like jazz. A sequence at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is particularly gorgeous, and captures the dreamy whirlwind of musical inspiration. The length is best for older elementary-age bookworms – JJ was definitely beginning to get antsy by the end. But overall, this look at the life and early work of Joplin is a winner. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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