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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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  484 ratings  ·  115 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 Was a Jazz
Hardcover, 24 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Henry Holt & Company
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Start your review of Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane
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. ...more
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.
Ben Truong
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane is a children's picture book written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sean Qualls. It tells the story of a young John Coltrane growing up in the South in the 1930s.

February, at least in my part of the world is Black History Month, which I plan to read one children's book, particularly a biography, which pertains to the subject everyday this month. Therefore, I thought that this book would be apropos for today.

John William Coltr
Adriana Cole
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Text to self connection:

This book tells the story of a little boy who uses his world, his experiences and his family to become a “jazz giant”. A phrase from the book that better explains this is “ Before John was a Jazz giant, he heard steam engines whistling past, cousin Mary giggling at jitterbuggers, and bojangles tap-dancing in the picture show”. He is speaking of past experiences and sounds and using them as a platform for his music. I think this would be a great lesson to the students abo
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.
Lori Gravley
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovely structure, a beautiful way to approach a biography, not too much fact, but every phrase opens a world. Nice back matter.
Helen Ladson
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Before A Love Supreme, Mr. John Coltrane was a boy with a dream! I absolutely LOVED this book!
Stephanie Croaning
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books, 2018
This book focuses on the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane. The author repeats the refrain "Before John was a jazz giant" and then mentions the sounds he heard around him every day -- the whistle of a steam engine, his grandpa's Sunday sermons and the church choir, music on the radio. The story ends with the stunningly simple, yet powerful, statement that "Before John was a jazz giant,/he was all ears." An Author's Note is included in the back of the book that provides more details about Co ...more
Grace Ramseur
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Genre: Biography
Awards: Coretta Scott King Award
Audience: Grades 3-5th
A. This book is a partial biography because it only discusses a short time of John's childhood of him growing up and how he found his way to loving music. This book does not dive deep into his whole childhood or any of his adulthood, just a short portion of his early years.
B. This is a fictionalized biography because his childhood is described very briefly and without much or any conversations. This book is used to give a basi
Megan Taff
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Summary: This book became sweet and to the point through the life of John's magician lifestyle. John grew up listening to many types of music throughout the comfort of his own home. Finally, one day he picked up a horn and realized that everything he's heard growing up is present in the sounds he plays. This made him realize that before he played, he was all ears.

Theme: You don't know unless you try.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Response: The book was short and to the point. However, if kids do not pick up o
Emily Krafcik
This was a great nonfiction story with some super cute illustrations. Little John Coltrane was so cute! It is amazing to see how he transformed his life and experiences into music! I loved the use of color with the notes flowing from the instruments. Blue and purple are such a good color combination! The way his life changes from seeing trains and then becoming a music giant. Like I said about the book, "A Splash of Red" I would have enjoyed music class so much more if we had beautiful resources ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a clever way to tell the story of John Coltrane that is both simple and colorful. Every page had just enough text to balance with the illustrations allowing young children to follow along without feeling overwhelmed by text. It also leaves room for a child to ask questions about jazz and John Coltrane which can lead to an investigation at the library or internet. Recommend to anyone with children who love music.
Ana Marlatt
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great illustrations and a solid story makes this picture book great! This would be great for music teachers, or for any teacher who would love to share the legacy of great African-Americans with kids. This would make a great mentor book for writing as well. Most of all, it was nice to read about all the cultural and family events that contributed to John Coltrane’s amazing music.
Christin Lozano
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I just read this yesterday to a preschool class and again this morning to a class of 1st graders and both groups loved the beautiful pictures AND story of a musical legend! Perfect picture book biography for our youngest readers (and pre-readers) and a great intro to discussions about Black History Month, jazz, musicians and the art of listening. Highly recommend this book as a read aloud!
Jordan Vinson
Mar 16, 2021 marked it as to-read
Shelves: biographies
This book is super interesting. It discusses the life of John Coltrane a great American Saxophonist. It shows when he discovered music and how it impacted his life. The illustrations are beautiful. The story discusses how music in his childhood shaped his own musical ideas.
Age Level:3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
Inna Han
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
All color in this book seems well- chosen, considering the character and his environment. It is a good example of biography from which children come to recognize the importance of childhood experiences in shaping who we become as adults.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it
The text covers different sound and musical influences on a young Coltrane, but does not effectively connect those sounds to his music, and I suspect that could have been done.

Still could be a good precursor to helping children identify different sounds in music.
ashley folman
I wasn't much of a fan of the book Before John Was a Jazz Giant, it was about a young boy that got his sound of music from the sounds he grew up listening too. The illustrations were very cute and different in this book. Its recommended for the Kindergarten age. ...more
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good story and pictures.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
short, concise prose. worked just fine for the subject matter and intended audience.
Danielle Hammelef
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Clever focus and presentation of this musician's life. I thoroughly enjoyed this lyrical text and wonderful art. ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lyrical and beautiful.
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Grades 4-5
This is the story of John Coltrane; interesting pictures; a simple story of his life.
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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

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