The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Roots Of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a lush and beautiful ode to the art form.

It started with poetry, folktales, spirituals, and rhymes. Then came funk, providing the basslines and rhythm, then the Jamaican MCs and dub. Finally, it was all pulled together in the Bronx by DJ Kool Herc – and hip-hop was born. It spread across the country, then across the world, giving rise to street fashion, culture, dance, and – most critically – the music and verse. Now it is a worldwide nation of the faithful, those who feel the beat, hear the words, and are moved – ya heard?

Phenomenal. Using a flowing rhyme interspersed with onomatopoeic syncopated rhythms and drop-dead gorgeous urban-inspired art, this book takes both fans and newcomers through both the history and musical elements of hip-hop. Not only the music itself is explored; B-boy and B-girl dancing, street art, and other cultural elements both influential and influenced by the genre are showcased. Kid-unfriendly elements are skipped over (the East Coast/West Cost feud, the censorship wars, etc.), and the focus is primarily on East Coast and male rappers, though two spreads gloriously celebrate the original holy trinity of female rap: Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, and Queen Latifah. A wealth of backmatter and a foreword by Swizz Beatz are the cherry on top. The length was great, and JJ especially loved trying out the beats. Stylish, beautiful, informative, and fun – a must for music lovers of all ages. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Wendell The Narwhal (Emily Dove)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Wendell The Narwhal by Emily Dove, a story about finding your talents and working together.

Wendell the narwhal has only one wish: to make beautiful music. His only problem is that the most melodious sound he can manage with his tusk is a flat “tap-tap” noise when he hits it against a rock. It’s a bummer, because all his friends can make beautiful noises: the whale sings, the jellyfish go “wubba-wub”, the octopus can pop his tentacles, etc. However, when all those sounds are going at once, they all drown each other out, and it becomes one loud cacophony! Wendell taps his tusk on the rock, calling them to order and silencing the lot. Then it’s TOO quiet. Wendell begins to take off, sorry to have interrupted his friends’ fun, but they quickly stop him. In fact, they might have the perfect position in their undersea orchestra for Wendell, one that could help his musical dreams come true.

Very sweet. There a few great lessons to be learned here, all of them wonderful for little readers: we all have our own special talents to share, that finding them may take a little practice and luck, and that working together and supporting each other is how we make beautiful music. The art is absolutely adorable, and the use of onomatopoeia as visual elements in the illustrations works well to infuse tension – plus, they’re mighty fun to sound out. The length was good, and JJ particularly liked this one. A sweet story with a lovely message, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Miguel And The Grand Harmony (Matt de la Peña)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Miguel And The Grand Harmony, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Ana Ramírez, a gorgeous tie-in to the Oscar-nominated film Coco.

Told from the point of view La Música (presented in the form of a delicate golden sprite), the reader follows the spirit of music through the streets of a Mexican town. Music is everywhere: weddings, quinceañeras, funerals, or simply singing through a radio or a local’s guitar. The music is stopped abruptly, however, when it reaches the home of Miguel and his shoemaker family; his abuelita chases the musicians off, claiming they will upset the elderly Mamá Coco. But Miguel clearly yearns to hear the music, even make it, despite his family’s wishes. So La Música enlists the help of a mischievous stray dog named Danté, a broken guitar, and a kindly músico to help Miguel join in the grand harmony.

Full disclosure: Coco was the first movie JJ saw in a theater, so it will always have a special place in my heart (it was phenomenal). And in keeping with Disney’s recent fabulous tradition of high-quality “inspired by” tie-ins, this story is astoundingly good. While knowledge of the themes of Coco and its characters are helpful for context, they are not required – the story works just fine as a standalone, celebrating the power of music and the passion of those who live and breathe it. The watercolor art is gorgeous, evoking a classic picture-book style while infusing it with life and color that makes every page a stunner. The use of Spanish phrases and the inclusion of elements of Mexican culture are perfection, providing contextual clues instead of overt explanations, creating a sense of immersion that both Latinx and non-Latinx readers can appreciate. The length is fine, if a little on the long side for the youngest bookworms, but JJ and I both adored it. A must-read for lovers and makers of mūsica, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Ella, Queen Of Jazz (Helen Hancocks)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ella, Queen Of Jazz by Helen Hancocks, the true story of Ella Fitzgerald breaking the color barrier at the Mocambo Club with the help of a famous friend.

In the 1950’s, there was no better blues and jazz singer than Ella Fitzgerald. But there was terrible prejudice in the way of Ella achieving all her dreams as a singer. You see, Ella and her Fellas were not allowed to play in the most popular clubs because they were black. At the fanciest joint in town, Ella was turned away at the door, and she was heartbroken. But Ella was about to receive a very surprising call, thanks to one of the most famous women in Hollywood…

Stylish and sweet, with a fantastic message. For those unfamiliar with the story, SPOILER ALERT: Ella’s advocate was Marilyn Monroe, who was an enormous fan and was incensed to hear that Ella had been turned away from the Mocambo. She called the manager and said that if Ella was booked, she would sit in the front row every night and they could take all the pictures they liked, using her massive notoriety at the time to ensure that Ella got a fair shot at mainstream (read: white) music. It’s a wonderful story of women helping women, and Hancock’s does a fabulous job of telling it. She wisely keeps the focus on Ella until the very end, noting that it was her talent and perseverance had earned her the opportunity, and Monroe’s intervention was simply to force the hand of the racist club policies. Then, she celebrates the real-life friendship between the two, showing little readers that the key to overcoming our differences is by bonding over our similarities. It’s all wrapped up in a beautiful package of simple yet engaging text and colorful period-inspired art. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. This one is absolutely Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Trombone Shorty (Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Trombone Shorty, an autobiographical picture book written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a fun and fascinating tale that celebrates music and the people who love it.

“Where Y’at?” That’s how people in New Orleans greet each other, a town as friendly and musical as there ever was. And in the neighborhood of Tremé, there once lived a little boy named Troy, who loved music so much that he would play it without an instrument. He would play along with his older brother’s band and with the bands that played in the Mardi Gras parades. One day, Troy finds a trombone, beat up, but still having music to give. Troy carries the heavy instrument wherever he goes, teaching himself to play and dreaming of making “music gumbo”, a music that mixes together all the styles and feelings he adores. His brother encourages him, bestowing him with the nickname “Trombone Shorty” on account on of the instrument’s size compared to his. He plays without fear, marching with the parades as a small boy, and even being invited onstage for an impromptu performance with Bo Diddley. Now Troy is successful musician, playing around the world with his band – but he always returns to New Orleans, finding and encouraging young musicians as his brother once did for him.

Lovely! Mixing together elements of a musical biography and a love letter to New Orleans, Andrews tells his tale with verve and excitement, writing passionately about his home and music in a way that inspires infectious joy (the author’s photos in the back are especially adorable). Collier’s mixed-media art is as spectacular as ever, seamlessly mixing in photography with illustration to create spreads that sing with the spirit and music of the text. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. A must-read for any young music lover, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!