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Summer Challenge Edition: Picture Book Biographies of Musical Greats

May 15, 2018

There are a bevy of picture book biographies about musicians, artists, and singers from all genres! Add some rock, jazz, folk, swing, blues, and hip hop to your reading this summer for Summer Challenge!

By now it should be readily apparent that picture books are more than just cute animals. They are complex works of art and literature that delve into a variety of subjects and themes. One of my favorite types of picture books is the biography. Beautiful artwork and accesible text join together to present an introductory-or maybe even deeper-look into a notable person. In honor of this year's Summer Challenge theme Be a Reading Rockstar, check out some picture book biographies of famous (and not-so-well-known) icons of music.  

From jazz originators like Jelly Roll Morton to giants like John Coltrane to contemporary interpreters like Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, jazz musicians are a particularly popular subject for picture book writers and illustrators. There are also books about less widely known figures like Lil' Hardin Armstrong and Melba Liston, pioneering female jazz musicians who played with luminaries such as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

The great voices of jazz are also represented.  According to The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, young Lena learned to read before entering Kindergarten, and books were "her lifelong love, a haven from hardship and heartache." The great Lady Day loved dogs (especially her boxer Mister), and Ellla Fitzgerald rose from dancing on the streets of Yonkers for spare change to headlining at Carnegie Hall.

Folk and rock musicians like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan have also received the picture book treatment. Also included are Elizabeth Cotten and Odetta, who influenced both Dylan and Seeger. In fact, Bob Dylan credited Odetta for inspiring him to switch from electric to acoustic guitar (he later did go back to electric guitar, rather notoriously).

If we are talking about electric guitar, however, we of course have to talk about Jimi Hendrix. And If we are going to talk about contemporaries of both Hendrix and Dylan, we of course are going to mention The Beatles. But without blues great Muddy Waters, both Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles would not have been possible. 

Check out the scroller below for a more thorough selection of musical picture book biographies, including books about the great (and of my personal favorites) Stevie Wonder, Latin music legends Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, and hip hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc. If you read any of these titles, be sure to log them as part of Summer Challenge

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Klem-Mari Cajigas


In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.