Written by Jonah Winter   

Illustrated by Sean Qualls

Dizzy Gillespie was a real cool cat
who must have been born
with a horn in his hands.
The trumpet was his ticket
on a train to better days, 
and he left his hard life
in a small town
for New York,
and the hottest band around.
But did Dizzy stand straight and play right?
NO! He hit high notes, low notes
never-been-heard notes,
acted silly, played around
puffed his cheeks out like a clown . . .
and created a whole new kind of music:

This is a story
about a boy
who breaks all the rules
and ends up head of the class
top of the heap, the
ska-diddley dee bop! - 
Prince of Jazz.

Reviews and Awards

Society of Illustrators Original Art Show
Kirkus Best Book of 2006
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Booklist Editors' Choices
Horn Book Magazine Fanfare Book
Chicago Public Library's list of "Children's Books for Year-Round Gift Giving"
BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
Child Magazine Best Book
CBC Choices 2007

⋆ "Through a powerful marriage of rhythmic text and hip and surprising illustrations, the unorthodox creator of Bebop comes to life. Beaten regularly by his father, the young Gillespie found escape in a trumpet given to him by his music teacher. “For the boy with the horn/fueled with a FIRE/that burned with every whooping,/JAZZ was like a fire extinguisher./It was cooooooool.” He went on to become a crowd-pleasing performer, loving jazz because it “...was like breaking the rules,/like inventing new rules.” Later, in New York, he began playing his own music. He called it Bebop: “It was like he had taken a wrecking ball/and SMASHED IN/The House of Jazz,/till the walls came tumbling down….” Winter’s lively writing pops with energy and begs to be read aloud. Qualls’s acrylic, collage, and pencil illustrations swing across the large pages with unique, jazzy rhythms, varying type sizes and colors, and playful perspectives, perfectly complementing the text. This is a book that has a message: “…the very thing that had gotten him into trouble/so much–/being a clown, breaking all the rules–/had become the thing that made him great….” But most important, it is a delightful story that introduces readers to an influential and unique American musician." - School Library Journal, starred review

⋆ "The syncopated rhythms of bebop form the backbeat to this introduction to Dizzy Gillespie. Winter sets his stage with a firm delineation of young Gillespie’s character: A little boy who was the target of bullies and the victim of an abusive father found an outlet with the trumpet, and turned himself into a clown. The narrative focuses on Gillespie’s own emotional and artistic journey, celebrating his desire to take risks “until the very thing that had gotten him into trouble / so much— / being a clown, breaking all the rules— / had become the thing that made him great, / . . . . ” The text breaks into ecstatic scat while the illustrations move from representational art to abstract depictions of the jagged sounds of jazz. Qualls’s acrylic-and-collage images employ a muted palette of pinks and blues and beiges, and compositions vary from scenes of daily life to poster-like montages, effectively establishing Gillespie as larger than life. The narrative culminates in a priceless image of Dizzy “shov[ing] the angel Gabriel out of the way / and show[ing] him how to play / Bebop.” “OOP BOP SH’BAM!” " - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

⋆ "There have been many books about jazz for young readers, a peculiar topic because, as a rule, it’s not a form of music that children have an affinity for, if they are familiar with it at all. But, together, Winter and Qualls make it work. That’s because Winter recognizes that if he can get readers interested in a character—in this case, trumpet revolutionary Dizzy Gillespie—they will want to learn more about his music. And Qualls is able to translate the story (and the music) into shapes and colors that undulate and stream across the pages with a beat and bounce of their own. The story of “one real cool cat” begins with a South Carolina childhood full of blue notes. Poor, abused, and angry, young John Birks Gillespie has his life turned around after a teacher gives him a trumpet. In a two-page spread, a river of red – his anger in living color – bursts out of Gillespie’s new horn as he blows “REALLY LOUD.” An explanation of jazz follows, and it is simple enough for the audience: “You took a melody and played it all different ways... changed every phrase - it was crazy.” That is followed up with a bit more illumination dear to kids’ hearts: “If a melody was like a rule, jazz was like breaking the rules, like inventing new rules. Jazz was like getting into trouble.” Tracing Gillespie’s ascent in the New York jazz world of the early 1940s, the story catches the excitement of the city, meshing it with the trumpeter’s crazy personality (which earned him the nickname Dizzy); meanwhile, the artwork zigs and zags in color combinations that evoke the nightclub scene—greens, tans, a bit of peach, all counterpointed with muted grays. An author’s note fills out Dizzy’s story and lauds him for a personal life that was as composed as his music was wild. Turn up the stereo: kids will want to hear it for themselves." - Booklist, starred review

⋆ "Youngsters who can't tell swing from bebop will nonetheless embrace Winter's energetic take on Dizzy Gillespie: bullied squirt who takes out his frustrations with his fists; young Turk who clowns his way right out of a job; jazz innovator who rewrites the rule book with sounds nobody ever expected to emerge from a trumpet. Freewheeling verse peppered with rogue rhymes traces his life from childhood years when "he took all the anger he felt inside / and blasted it out through the end of his horn," thorugh his early career testing the patience of fellow musicians in swing bands ("On certain nights he'd elbow the piano man off the bench and play the keyboard with his left hand and the trumpet with his right.") and on to his emergence as a features artist with an entirely new soundL "It was like he had taken a wrecking ball and SMASHED IN The House of Jazz. Quall's acrylic, pencil and collage artwork just can't keep still, blasting streams of liquid sound from horns, unleashing angles and doves to accompany the trumpeter, upsetting the staid horizonatl and vertical lines of stage performances with Dizzy's diagonal antics. Stylized faces register a playmate's taunting, a father's rage, colleagues critical disapproval, all in sharp visual contrast to Dizzy's own expressions of assurance and pride, perhaps serenity, as he settles into his signature soun. Even the primary color scheme plucks an emotional chord - reds of anger and hot jazz are cooled into pinks and mauves; blues add a counterpoint of sadness behind the clowning; in the closing spread yellow gold boasts a triumphant Dizzy in crown and halo, who "still shoves tha angel Gabriel out of the way, and shows him how to play Bebop." Paris this with Anderson's Strange Mr. Satie, a story of a very different rule-breaking musician, to demonstrate that not all dead musicians are dull musicians." - Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

"Young John (later Dizzy) Gillespie was a cutup and attention-seeker who was fired from several bands because of his lack of seriousness. But his sense of play and hot-dog musicianship allowed him to become one of the innovators of be-bop as well as a great jazz trumpeter and singer. Winters uses rhyme, repeated text, and unexpected line breaks to reflect Dizzy's musical style. Most of the time this works well, encouraging readers-aloud to perform the text with a jazzy rhythm and to emphasize the occasional large, bold-type word like one of Dizzy's sudden high blats... Qualls's large mixed-media art provides a masterful combination of narrative and emotion. His Cezanne-like paint blotches and tipped perspectives capture young Dizzy's worldview, sometimes depicting the people in his life as dwarfed by abstract visual representations of the music he hears. Story-hour readers would do well to put on a recording of Gillespie's "A Night in Tunesia" and jump right in, leaving their inhibitions at the door. - Horn Book Magazine

“One of the best picture book biographies of recent years is Dizzy.... Winter's explanations of what jazz is and how it felt to Gillespie are put in perfectly kid-friendly terms.... The stylized illustrations and the bold typography are in sync with the jazz vibe, which permeates every page.” - San Francisco Chronicle

Purchase Options
Indiebound • Amazon • Barnes & Noble 

Fall 2006
ISBN: 0-439-50737-5
Price: $16.99/$21.99
Trim Size: 10 1/2" x 11"
Page Count: 48
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? yes

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