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Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane
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Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  319 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
Young John Coltrane was all ears. And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South in the 1930s: preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household. These vivid noises shaped John’s own sound as a musician. Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls have composed an amazingly  rich hymn to the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane.
Before John
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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I am looking forward to sharing this one with my students. We listened to some jazz last week and I think they'll appreciate this book. The text is brief, but shares about John Coltrane's life simply and in a fun and lively way.
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Picture books about jazz are the oddest little critters, aren't they? There are a surprising number of them, first of all. Sometimes I think that all the rock and roll, blues, and opera picture books combined can't compare in number to the sheer amounts of jazz-related texts that cross library doorsteps every year. Much of this, I suspect, has much to do with illustrators feeling a kinship with that particular style of music. If jazz is an improvisational art, then it must burn in the bones of m ...more
Ralf Urbach
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Being a lover of all types of music this was a wonderful read with my kids to show them much of anything that makes noise can be incorporated into a song or in this case John Coltranes future in music. The blues and purples used and seeing the music come straight out of the instruments throughout this book flow right with explaining how John grows into the great musician. One of the books bonus features is the biography/timeline of Johns journey.
Erin Ramai
This text is a 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. It is appropriate for children ages 4-8.

Sean Qualls's illustrations for Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane allow us as readers and viewers to see the "hand of the creator" so to speak. His seemingly chaotic and haphazard application of acrylic paint is immediately visible even on the mostly indigo endpapers. His layering of the paint creates space, movement, depth and shadow. Although Qualls uses several coats of p
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I just loved, loved, loved this one! It just excites me through and through. It just works. So many things to love, so many reasons why. I don't think I can do it justice. But I'll try. I'll try. The book--beautifully illustrated, award-worthy illustrations in my humble opinion--is a poetic tribute to the legendary John Coltrane. Each stanza of the poem begins with the refrain, "Before John was a jazz giant..." Each stanza gives the reader information about John's life--his family, his childhood ...more
Huh. I'm torn. I really liked this book, but it left me wanting more. The pictures are to die for. Sean Qualls is quickly becoming one of my favorite children's illustrators. (Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was awesome.) I really like Carole Boston Weatherford, too. She wrote one of my favorite picture books last year, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer. And Before John Was a Jazz Giant does what it says it's going to do. It's a lovely song about John Coltrane. BUT... ...more
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I didn't shelve Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane as nonfiction, because it's pretty much speculative. But it could be kind of an intro biography for the younger set. This book has a great, jazzy cadence to it, which really serves to introduce the kids to jazz. It also has a bit of a music appreciation theme. This is about when John Coltrane was a young boy, and how he heard music everywhere: in hambones knocking around a pot, in the wails of funeral mourners, in his grandfat ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Centers on the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane, and the sounds that inspired and shaped him as a musician. The story begins in John's kitchen at home where the sounds of the pots and pans of where his grandmother cooks catches his ear, as well as the ukulele his father played. Young John also would pay attention to the steam engine that passed through his neighborhood, and the music coming from the local movie theatre. He paid close attention to the poetic sounds of his grandfather's serm ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Pre-2
Shelves: easy-kids
Another beautifully illustrated book about jazz for kids. This book is about Jonh Coltrane before he was a star. I really like the way that it emphasizes all of the things he did, like playing his horn and hearing sounds, people and music all around him.
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Jazz begins with the rhythm of pots and pans for John Coltrane and can for any other child luck enough to see and hear this book read to them.
Heather Gettys
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adriana Servin-cruz
Illustrations always seem to have a strong appeal to the story, especially to children since it triggers curiosity and imagination. Whether it is the front cover of a book that might interest them or the illustrations in between the book that hold their interest. Nonetheless, the illustrations in the book Before John Became a Jazz Giant are quite appealing and say more about the story. John is an African American little boy who grows up to be a famous jazz musician however, the plot of the story ...more
James Govednik
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-book, music
This book pulled me in slowly, taking me from a “ho-hum, another simplified biography” to “Wow, I love this book!” What struck me about this book was how much is revealed in so few pages. Coltrane had his share of bad choices in his life, but the author focuses instead on the person behind the music, and highlights the riches of a young boy’s life that lead him to personal fulfillment and greatness. The text epitomizes the qualities of a great picture book because the text and the illustrations ...more
Amy Forrester
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This picture book biography examines and celebrates the influences of John Coltrane before he was a jazz giant. As a boy, John hears music everywhere. There’s music in the sound of his grandma cooking, in the steam engines whistling, the hymns at church, and the birds singing sunrise. And John takes all the sounds in the world around him and he puts them in his saxophone. “Before John was a jazz giant, he was all ears.”

This book, which was named a Coretta Scott King honor book for illustration,
Apr 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Audience: The audience for this book would be grades K-3. I believe both boys and girls would find an interest in this book. Children who have an interest in music could gravitate to this book and it might also help pique an interest to those who don’t.

Appeal: Some of the words might be kind of tough for kindergarteners to understand but the flow and rhythm of the words they would love. The author did a great job in the details of describing the sounds and Johns experiences. The illustrations ar
Jessica Garcia
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing

It is not often that books on music are incorporated into the classroom. Looking back into my childhood I was almost never introduced to a childrens book that acknowledged the succes of any musician. Before John was a Jazz Giant is the story of young jazz player John Coltane and how he became to be a successful saxophonist. Growing up John was all ears. He would pay attention to every sound around him and growing up in the south during the 1930s there was a lot to hear. John heard things from m
This one is perfect for introducing both jazz and John Coltrane to a younger audience. Think Kindergarten. It would make an excellent read aloud, because it has great rhythm. The first line/title is repeated on each page and is followed by a few simple lines that give a glimpse into Coltrane’s life.

Art feels cozy and intimate because it isn’t busy. Colors alternate between warm and cool tones with a few splashes thrown on opposite pages. Young Coltrane is so charming with his big head and sweet
Leslie Brevard
Coretta Scott King Illustrator
Before John was a Jazz Giant
5 stars
1st – 4th grades
The illustrations in this book were a different technique that looks more like an oil painting. Each page has text on one side and pictures on both sides. There is no negative space in this book. It seems as though every space is covered with something there are many details, every time I read this book I notice something that I did not notice before. The colors used are a neutral tone relaxing as most people feel w
Teri Weaver
Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african-american
I am crazy about any picture books that are biographical in nature. This book would serve as an excellent introduction to a musical study of different styles of music. Because I love to incorporate music into my curriculum, this book could easily pique the interest of students, and provide valuable background information about historical facts of this time period. Although this is a picture book, I still think that it could be used with older students. The text tells a simple story of how Coltra ...more
Nov 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Qualls illustrations have broad brushstrokes of color that are highlighted with many geometric shapes created by contrasting colors and thin lines. Each illustration tells the story of that page without the text being necessary. He does not use great detail in most of the images that he created, but mixes some detail in to get the objective of across to the reader. The story is written with seven sentences that all begin, “Before John was a jazz giant”. This repetition allows the story to
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Before John Was a Jazz Giant

Genre: Historical fiction

Summary: This story re-counts how the childhoon experiences of John Coltrane were responsible for the soulful sound and creativity that made his music popular.

A. This evaluation focuses on how the illustrations serves to enhance the story's theme.

B. The illustrations show John Coltrane as a youth who listened to the variety of sounds at home, and in the community. The text augments the fact that he listens by not giving him words to speak in
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Before John Was a Jazz Giant


Sean Qualls illustrated this book with dramatic, dark colors upon light colors which creates a shading effect. The pictures are somewhat abstract looking yet detailed enough to see the expressions on the faces of the characters. In many of the illustrations John has his eyes closed to show the reader he is listening to the sounds around him. The text is whimsical and flowing in format. One page has the words hovering downwards and other pages have the words suspe
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
Before John was a Jazz Giant is an artful depiction of jazz legend John Coltrane's childhood. This primary level picture book guides readers thorugh the various sounds that surrounded John as a child in the 1930s. From Daddy strumming the ukele to the steam engines whistling past, everyday occurrences were music to his ears.
The everyday sounds and experiences of John's life inspired him to pick up the horn and create the music that is now a much appreciated part of history. A Coretta Scott King
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Grade/interest level: Primary (k-2nd)
Reading level: 1
Genre: Biography(Picture Book), Historical Fiction
Main Characters: John Coltrane
Setting: The South
Author: Boston Weatherford, Sean Qualls
Before John was a Jazz Giant, is an biography of John Coltrane. This book chronicles the life of John Coltrane a Jazz star, and it helps the readers to understand how the musical star developed his sound growing up in the south. Growing up in the 1930’s there was a lot for john to hear around him includi
Mar 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Young John Coltrane was all ears. And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South during the 1930s: church songs, preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household. John was surrounded by all kinds of vivid noises that shaped his own sound as a musician. With vibrant words and glowing colors, Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls compose an amazingly rich hymn to the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane. Summary from book jacket.

Potential Audience: Grades 2-5

Genre: B
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a great picture book; it was simple, interesting and informational. The author tells the story about how John Coltrane, a famous jazz player, used random sounds that he heard as a boy, and turned them into music. He heard sounds like, hambones knocking in grandmas pots, his dad strumming the ukelele and his mom cranking the phonograph. The phrase, "before John was a jazz giant", is repeated as new sounds are introduced. From the sounds he heard at home, to the sounds he heard out in the ...more
(NS) Panagiota Angelos
This book describes the sounds that John Coltrane heard as a young boy before he became a jazz legend. The repetitive text, “Before John was a giant”, begins most pages and describes all the wonderful sounds he heard. For example “steam whistling past, Cousin Mary giggling at jitterbuggers, and Bojangles tap-dancing in the picture show.” The story continues sharing different sounds that John heard as a boy. It is a unique and interesting (partial) biography. Young students may be confused by som ...more
Jazlyn Caraballo
Before John was a Jazz Giant, Is a book based on how John Coltrane got his motivation as a child to become a jazz artist. Throughout the story he explains the different sounds he heard growing up. He heard his mom cooking in a pot and his dad playing his ukulele. This story is told in a sort of poem and each page starts with, “Before John was a Jazz Giant.”
This short story won an award called, “The Coretta Scott King Award.” This award is given to African American authors and illustrators for
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: multicultural
Audience: Boys and girls, Primary

Appeal: The thing I really enjoyed about his book was the illustrations. They may not be the brightest and colorful pictures, but they are just as intriguing. I loved that every page was like a work of art. In addition, the text swirled around the pages, almost how you expect music to flow through the air, which is fitting since the book is about jazz.
Application: This book would be a great introduction into black history month. Typically, we talk about Martin Lu
Ruth Ann
Oct 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This book has a simple message that will ring true to every reader. We are each the sum of our experiences.

In this story we learn that before John played the saxophone with brilliance, he listened everywhere he went. He listened to church music and he listened to the jitterbug music of his cousin Mary. He listened to the sorrowful songs at funerals and the marches of the scoutmaster. He even listened to the music that Bonjangles was tap dancing to at the picture show.

In my opinion, this isn't a
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Carole Boston Weatherford is a children's book author and poet who "mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." A number of Weatherford's books tell the stories of African-American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Billie Holiday. Other books recount historical events such as the Greensboro Sit-ins and the bombing of the Sixteenth Stree ...more
More about Carole Boston Weatherford...