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Jazz Day

orgill_jazz dayIt’s so exciting to see a book by a new illustrator that doesn’t look like anything that came before. It’s much more common to notice clear influences (Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake, Leonard Weisgard…).

In case you haven’t seen this book yet, it’s about that famous photo by Art Kane, “Harlem 1958,” showing fifty-seven jazz musicians in front of a row of brownstones. Some of Roxane Orgil’s poems tell about that day and some give background information about the musicians depicted (and one who couldn’t make it).

Francis Vallejo’s art is such a good match for a book about jazz. Several of his compositions show large, bold foreground images with intricate line drawings in the background. To my eye, these compositions read like brass solos backed up with lighter repeated patterns from piano and drum.

Each spread tells the story of the poem on that page, but taken as a whole and in sequence, they also provide a 360° view of that particular street and moment in time. Vallejo plays around with point of view, just as the poems do. On one spread about a girl looking out her window at the assembling musicians, the perspective is from just above and slightly behind her head, so we can see the backs of the musicians and they prepare for the photo.

There is so much to notice in this art. Did you see what’s behind the jacket? I’d love to know what others found especially memorable.

This book will be receiving a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for picture book next week, but I wonder whether the Caldecott committee might need to discuss the place of the Art Kane photo. Despite the cover’s use of combined photo and painting, Vallejo never incorporates actual photographs in the interior art. Instead, the complete photo appears on a separate pull-out spread near the end of the book. There is a line in the Caldecott criteria that reads, “The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound, film or computer program) for its enjoyment.” Back when Me, Jane was eligible, we had a lively discussion here about McDonnell’s use of the famous photo by Hugo Van Lawick. That committee chose to honor the book anyway, and I certainly hope this one does, too.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. My favorite picture is of the line of boys next to Count Basie. The expressions on the boys faces, the small spots of color, and the composition of the line framed by the only standing boy at one end and the Count at the other.
    I love the use of color and the use of just simple lines, I love the way no two pages are alike. Each deals with a poem and truly illustrates the poem. That would be my concern. Is this an illustrated book of poetry? Or does this tell the story of the day of a photograph? The artwork is beautiful either way.

  2. Hooray for Calling Caldecott!

    As a hybrid of nonfiction and ekphrastic poetry, the concept behind JAZZ DAY is absolutely brilliant. I appreciate your bringing up ME…JANE, Lolly. I hadn’t thought to make that comparison but it’s a good one. Is there a term for when an artist embeds photos in a work illustrated in another medium (besides “mixed media”)? I guess you’re saying JAZZ DAY isn’t quite one of those books (see instead: KNUFFLE BUNNY) but there ought to be a term for what Vallejo and McDonnell both have done. It bears repeating what a brilliant touch that is…

    Either way, I’m THRILLED to see this on the list and I hope to see it on the RealCommittee’s as well. Thanks!

  3. Natasha Forrester says:

    I’m so happy to see this book discussed! I, too, had the concern at first that it was more of an illustrated book of poems, but the illustrations and poems tell such a complete and multi-faceted story of the day the picture was taken. I found myself going back several times and looking for “Alfred” – he’s easily identifiable even on pages where he isn’t mentioned by name. And the placement of the iconic photo underneath the word click, and right next to the poem makes the photo feel like a part of the poem itself – I immediately looked for Dizzy and his stuck-out tongue. I was also amazed at the contrast of some of the imagery – for the poem Some Kind of Formation (which made me think of Beyonce’s Formation, as well, I will admit!), the images at the forefront are in color but not very detailed, almost blurred, white the faded pen line drawings of the crowd and the buildings have the most detail and expression. That also reminded me of jazz, with simple and complex melodies twining together and changing places as a song (and in this case book) progresses.

    I’m very much hoping to see this on a Caldecott announcement!

  4. Miranda Doolittle says:

    Despite winning the Horn Book award, I’m a little more skeptical about this book’s chances for the Medal. I could see honor book, but I just wonder if it’s doing so many things in one package that some of the voters may shy away from granting it the big prize. The illustrations are so strong but the poetry doesn’t always rise to that level. And the poetry’s target age level seemed to vary considerably.

    It’s a really interesting concept that you bring up about a candidate not being dependent on other media — I seriously doubt those who crafted the rules were thinking of a situation like this, but perhaps (however unlikely) it is unintentionally ineligible?

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Also, Caldecott winner HUGO CABRET had a lot of photographs.

  6. Jazz Day is one of my favorites this year. I found the poetry to be exquisite (so I’m hoping it lands a Newbery) and I found the artwork equally striking.

    What I love about the art is how evocative it is. It *felt* like the time period – all soft washes of color with bursts of activity. The characters are rendered in great detail, each of the jazz players stands out in sharp relief from the others.

    Vallejo hits all the marks for me: the artwork is appropriate for the text, it’s exciting and intriguing, the style complements the tone of the book, and there’s an assuredness in the media. If it doesn’t snag the Medal, I’m crossing my fingers for an honor.

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