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Poetry, Pictures and Record-Breaking Stunts

Jazz Day, Harlem, 1958

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In 1958, photographer and ad agency art director Art Kane got Esquire Magazine to commission a photograph of jazz musicians for an issue devoted to the musical genre at its height. Classical music critic Roxane Orgill turned to poetry to write Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (Candlewick Press; $18.99; grades 4+), a book about the historic photo session in Harlem that captured 57 famous and not necessarily famous jazz musicians. Illustrator Francis Vallejo has created a series of expansive scenes that focus on the musicians interacting along 126th Street, waiting for the era-capturing click.

Although the photo shoot was not spontaneous like jazz since it took five hours to compose and finish, the resulting image (right) shows the musicians in a relaxed and convivial mood, which the poems also convey. The book ends with the photo, followed by a prose explanation that separates the real and imagined details of the event.



Award-winning poet Eloise Greenfield has collected an assortment of her work in In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems (Amistad; $6.99; ages 4-8), a slim volume that sometimes sounds like hip-hop lyrics and at other times like elementary-school romance. The character of Nathaniel — whom the poet says resides “only in the world of my imagination,” although some readers believe he is real — claims his lines show that he “can rap, rap, rap / Til your earflaps flap.”

The poet interposes retrospective commentary among poems that she has drawn from her dozen books, many of which Jan Spivey Gilchrist illustrated. In this volume Gilchrist creates sewn fabric collages that vary from shapes to cartoonish young faces.

The poetic style avoids forced rhymes, although the verses do rhyme and contain simple words that come together in new and fresh combinations: “It takes more than a wish / to catch a fish / you take the hook / you add the bait / you concentrate.” Seeming so effortless, the verses will inspire would-be poets to try their hand at the craft, only to discover how easy poetry is not.


See page 2 for more great children's books.

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