John Coltrane's Giant Steps

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You may be surprised
at the tricky music
a box,
a snowflake,
some raindrops,
and a kitten
can make.

Right before your eyes.
And on the pages
of this book.

There is someone
watching, encouraging
our performers
but keeping them
under control.

Why not
listen along?

John Coltrane's musical composition is performed by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This innovative visual deconstruction of one of jazz saxophonist Coltrane's most beloved compositions may be Raschka's (Mysterious Thelonious) most ambitious picture book yet. After a playful introduction ("Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book"), the unseen narratorconductor introduces the performers a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten a tongue-in-cheek nod to Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things"). The book does not require previous awareness of the jazz great's work, however. Each performer (representing percussion, bass, piano and sax) appears in a different color and shape (Raschka riffs on primary red, yellow and blue, and the basic square, triangle and circle). The performance begins, only to be interrupted when the kitten ("the melody on top of everything") takes steps a little too large ("People, people! What happened?"). Some coaching finally produces what Coltrane called "sheets of sound." Raschka's transparent watercolors layer colors and shapes the way a musician would notes and harmonies. Stunningly simple, the concept provides a compelling introduction to Coltrane's genius. Those who possess a little musical knowledge will delight in such arch references as "remixed by Chris Raschka" on the title page and the conductor's hilarious critique ("First of all, raindrops, you were rushing on page 19"). Even the jacket repeats the book's central conceit: a clear plastic wrap featuring the kitten, painted in thick black outline, overlays the other elements. A must for jazz enthusiasts and, for first-timers, a clever introduction to this wildly creative musical genre. Ages 4-7. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Once again, as in Charlie Parker Played Be Bop and Mysterious Thelonius, Raschka makes connections between music, in this case jazz, and visuals on the pages of a book. The transparent plastic jacket with his almost crude linear black kitten covers the cover's overlapping areas of transparent watercolors. The book plays with these elements in response to some imagined "sheets of sound." The text encourages us to "see" a Coltrane composition as colored shapes intermix and the kitten moves across the pages. "Steady! 1234! Hey. Whoa! Careful!" There's even an internal analysis of "some trouble spots" and then the correction. To "dig" this picturebook, one probably should be familiar with the sounds of Coltrane or at least of some of his jazz contemporaries. Or perhaps to try to compose some of your own. Some information on Coltrane is included. 2002, A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division,
— Ken Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3-Chris Raschka's latest jazz title (Atheneum, 2002) is greatly enhanced with this audio version. His creative and clever introduction to "Giant Steps" is a wonderful first exposure to both jazz music and Coltrane's piece. Richard Allen narrates, echoing into his nightclubbish microphone, "Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book." The text introduces the visual elements that will represent the instruments: the percussion, raindrops; the bass, squares; the piano, snowflakes; and the saxophone is a kitten. As the music and shapes begin to play together, they are a bit jumbled and out of rhythm, and the narrator stops the ensemble to "correct" the performance. The rest of the piece is played out in perfect harmony, both audibly and visually. Raschka's watercolor illustrations layer themselves as the music intensifies, providing an excellent visual for the musical concept represented here. Following the book's text, John Coltrane's 1960 version of the piece is played as the book's author introduces the band used in the just-heard recording. Raschka goes on to briefly explain the concept of jazz and introduces a bit of history for Coltrane's "Giant Steps." This title will be a reach for some children in the intended age group, but for those listeners who understand, it will provide excellent exposure to this musical genre. Appropriate for story times, music education, and general listening, it will be appreciated by librarians, teachers, and parents looking for a way to introduce children to jazz music.-Kirsten Martindale, Buford Academy, GA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a picture book that is simultaneously simpler and much more abstract than his earlier celebrations of Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, 1992) and Thelonious Monk (Mysterious Thelonious, 1997), Raschka attempts to depict visually saxophone great John Coltrane's "marvelous and tricky composition," "Giant Steps." A hip, avuncular narrator greets readers and then introduces the performers: a box, a snowflake (rendered as two, overlapping, squashy triangles), a raindrop, and a trademark Raschka kitten. The geometric shapes appear in translucent pastel watercolors; the kitten is outlined in dark gray with swift brushstrokes. The "characters" layer themselves over one another to create colorful "sheets of sound" to the accompaniment of narrative interpolations: "Hello, snowflake. Our snowflake is taking the piano part tonight, / showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame. Niceness." This layering manages uncannily to deliver a visual approximation of the layers of sound in the composition; the kitten in particular, with her sometimes swoopy, sometimes angular lines that dart across the page, evokes the complex melodic line with its runs and stops, her onomatopoetic "Meow!" echoing the sound of the sax. This offering differs from the two previous in that it seeks to deliver a purely visual representation of sound with no melodic textual accompaniment, and once the characters are set up, there isn't anywhere to go. The narrative constructs a sonic/visual train wreck of sorts, in which the characters lose control of the music. There follows a diagram of the "problem," with circles and arrows to point out where each player got it wrong: "Now box, box, my friend. Much too heavy onpage 18. I know you're our foundation and you've got to be strong. But can you be strong yet light? Hmmmmm? Try." This hiatus approaches preciousness, and while it gives the narrative an opportunity to discuss Coltrane's genius, it does exactly what "Giant Steps" does not-it causes the piece to lose its momentum. Raschka has set the bar high for himself: conceptually, this interpretation nears brilliance, but in the end it loses control. Nevertheless: a fascinating and ambitious attempt to render the purely aural in a purely visual form. (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689845987
  • Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
  • Publication date: 7/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 685,038
  • Age range: 4 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Raschka is the illustrator of The Hello, Goodbye Window, which was awarded the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book Yo! Yes?; Charlie Parker Played Be Bop; Mysterious Thelonious; John Coltrane’s Giant Steps; and Can’t Sleep. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

Chris Raschka is the illustrator of The Hello, Goodbye Window, which was awarded the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book Yo! Yes?; Charlie Parker Played Be Bop; Mysterious Thelonious; John Coltrane’s Giant Steps; and Can’t Sleep. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    John Coltrane's Giant Steps offered so much more than I expected

    John Coltrane's Giant Steps offered so much more than I expected in a children's book! The CD included with the book is a must; this is really meant to be experienced as an entire package. The CD offers two tracks: one with page turn cues, one without.

    The story's "performers" are some raindrops on drums, a box playing string bass, a snowflake on piano, and an adorable kitten on tenor sax. (Get it? Raindrops? Snowflake? Kitten?) Narrator Richard Allen has a laid back, very chill style of reading - a perfect fit for such a cool piece of jazz. Allen also serves as "conductor" for our imaginary ensemble, helping them fix trouble spots and find a groove.

    Chris Raschka’s lovely illustrations seem very simple, but become more and more complex as the story progresses. As new layers are introduced in the music, Raschka's watercolors layer upon one another. I loved that; what a perfect way for listeners to visualize Coltrane's distinct style of music!

    This book is an artistic and musical literary adventure for young readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2002


    This spirited introduction to the music of the jazz giant is a visual treat that strives to make music jump off the page in an entirely innovative way. Chris Raschka's text introduces each image as if they were supporting band members: raindrops symbolize the tempo; a box lays down the foundation; a snowflake provides harmony; and a kitten steps in as melody. The shapes and colors combine as if different instruments in Coltrane's famous arrangement of "My Favorite Things" hence the lyrical images that Chris Raschka has wryly selected.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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