Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday #nfpb2014

nonfiction picture book challenge button

I’m participating in Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit her blog to learn more about the incredible variety of nonfiction picture books.

After my older son came home from school complaining that the only time he learns about the achievements and history of African-Americans is when the focus is on slavery or civil rights, I decided that he and I would read 90 picture books this year about African-Americans that DO NOT focus on slavery or Civil Rights.

Picture book biographies of musicians and artists are making this challenge a little easier than I thought it would be, because there are so many wonderful books about African-American singers and musicians, especially jazz musicians.

This week, we read two books about jazz:

before john

Carole Boston Weatherford’s Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane highlights all of the sounds that John Coltrane heard as a child, sounds that may have influenced the way he played jazz. Weatherford’s text is really a poem–full of strong imagery and rhythmic language–beautifully supported by Sean Qualls’s illustrations. I knew my son found this book engaging because he wanted to hear Coltrane’s music and see photographs of him when we finished reading.

duke ellington


Andrea Davis Pinkney’s biography of Duke Ellington uses language brilliantly to capture the sound of jazz music. Pinkney’s writing is perfect for this story, though the vocabulary was often way over my son’s head. Brian Pinkney’s colorful illustrations bring Ellington and his historical time period to life.

We also read one book for the Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge:



my name is celia

My Name Is Celia, written by Marcia Brown and vividly illustrated by Rafael Lopez, is a dual-language English-Spanish biography of Cuban salsa singer, Celia Cruz. The story is engaging and interesting, even if you know nothing about Cruz (which we didn’t before reading this book), but the star for me was Lopez’s illustrations. Brown and Lopez make a terrific pair: their Tito Puento, Mambo King is another picture book biography we enjoyed.


10 responses to “Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday #nfpb2014”

  1. I grew up with jazz – my Dad is such a fan. Makes me so happy to see these artists celebrated in picture book biographies. Do you think your son might start like listening to jazz music? It was always playing in my house as a kid!

    • How wonderful to have that background and knowledge! We have listened to a bit after we’ve read these books–he is definitely interested in learning more, though I think the attention span for unfamiliar music is short. I wish I knew more about music so that he could have a more well-rounded listening experience at home!

  2. I love when authors of picture books write about great figures from our past. In my Music for Elementary Teachers class we studied about Duke Ellington. It is great when young students are exposed to these types of people from history. He made such a huge impact on jazz music. Wonderful!!!!

  3. Duke Ellington is definitely one of my favourite PBBs. I reviewed this gorgeous picture book several years back – I like how his condition (synaesthesia) was also highlighted in such an artistic fashion.

  4. Love the music selections this week! Another great music NF PB is Marvin Makes Music. 🙂
    Pinkney’s biographies are some of my favorites. Have you read the Ella Fitzgerald one?
    Thank you for sharing the other two titles–they were both new to me.

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