Riding on Duke's Train

Riding on Duke's Train

5.0 27
by Mick Carlon

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"Duke used to say that the individual sound of a musician revealed his soul. Mick Carlon is a 'soul' storyteller."—Nat Hentoff, author of Jazz Country

"A ripping good yarn. . . . Plunges the reader into the world of Duke Ellington and the America of 1939."—Brian Morton, author of The Penguin Guide to Jazz

"Wonderfully convincing and


"Duke used to say that the individual sound of a musician revealed his soul. Mick Carlon is a 'soul' storyteller."—Nat Hentoff, author of Jazz Country

"A ripping good yarn. . . . Plunges the reader into the world of Duke Ellington and the America of 1939."—Brian Morton, author of The Penguin Guide to Jazz

"Wonderfully convincing and authentic characterizations. . . . A thoroughly enjoyable read."—Dan Morgenstern, author of Living with Jazz

"We encounter not only Duke's genius, but his character and humanity. This is one train you won't want to get off!"—Dick Golden, radio host

"When this marvelously evocative novel finds a home in the school curriculum, kids across America will be downloading Duke."—Jack Bradley

"Excellent command of voice, period, and ethnic dialect . . . clear love and in-depth knowledge of Ellington and his band."—Alexandria LaFaye, author of The Keening

Nine-year-old Danny stows away on Duke Ellington's train one Georgia night. Through Danny's eyes, we meet some of America's finest musicians as he accompanies them on their 1939 European tour, when the train was briefly held in Germany. Says Nat Hentoff, "I knew Duke Ellington for twenty-five years. The Ellington in this book is the man I knew."

Mick Carlon is a twenty-seven-year veteran English/journalism high- and middle-school teacher. A lifelong jazz fan, he regularly plays jazz in his classroom and has turned hundreds of students into jazz fans. He says, "If young people are simply exposed to the music and stories of these American artists, they will make a friend for life."

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Utilizing his encompassing knowledge of Ellington's music, personnel and decades-long touring, Carlon (a veteran middle-school teacher) presents a kid's-eye view whose drama centers on the band's 1939 European tour. Danny, orphaned at 9, stows away on Duke's tour train. Adopted as a gaffer and drum polisher, later becoming the composer's musical copyist, Danny narrates a life of touring: exciting, sometimes boring, rich with musical highs and adoring fans worldwide. Schooled by band members in both reading (Dickens, Marcus Garvey) and trumpet lessons, Danny comes across a bit more as a vehicle for the rich chronicle than an authentic child with whom readers can identify. (Indeed, Carlon fashions Danny as an older man looking back at life with Duke; there's an extraneous epilogue detailing a bucolic Irish retirement.) Danny's awe is leavened by small adventures with such band friends as cornetist Rex Stewart and Rabbit (a.k.a. alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges). Tension ratchets during the tour abroad, as Belgians hide machine guns in haystacks and Nazis detain the band's Scandinavian-bound train for hours in Hamburg. Carlon unflinchingly characterizes the Nazi hatred of "Niggermusik." Two references to the n-word contextualize it appropriately, as a reprehensible tool of Nazi hate speech. In schools where students are lucky enough to experience classroom jazz studies, this title, combining rich musical history and a "you are there" approach, is a natural. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Leapfrog Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
6 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Mick Carlon: Mick Carlon is a 27-year veteran English/journalism teacher at both the high and middle school levels. A life-long jazz fan, he regularly plays jazz in his classroom and has turned hundreds of students into jazz fans. He is quoted in the latest edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, co-authored by Brian Morton. Carlon says, “I feel that if young people are simply exposed to the music and stories of American artists such as Duke Ellington, then they will make a friend for life.”

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Riding on Duke's Train 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
WilliamWrenn More than 1 year ago
It's strange to be reviewing a book that has not yet been published--but I also received a copy of the galley back in April. Considering the subject matter, I was hoping that "Duke's Train" would be a solid novel--but I didn't expect it to be this fine. Ellington and his musicians--especially Ivy, Rex, Harry, and Sonny--all spring to full-blown life. I know a great deal about Duke and the author has captured the man in all his mysterious glory. He does take poetic license--Jimmie Blanton, for example, did not join the band until 1939--but that's more than allowed in a novel. Our school committee gave us the green light and our sixth graders will be reading this involving, inspiring novel next February. On the Leapfrog Press website, one of the early reviewers says, "A beautiful story with something real to say"--and I would say that about sums it up. I can see young (and old) readers being inspired to seek out Ellington's incredible music after reading Carlon's incredible novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My school has also adopted "Duke's Train" into our 7th grade curriculum. We're excited: In February, while our English teachers are teaching the novel, our music teachers will be focusing on Duke Ellington's music. I've read this novel twice now and I absolutely love it. As a reader, I feel like I've traveled to 1939 Harlem, Paris, and Germany. Like the other reviewer, this novel has made me seek out Duke Ellington's music and I'm now a fan. This truly unique book has heart, soul, and humor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess I'll join the gang: "Duke's Train" is the most enjoyable young adult novel I've read this year. There's one particular image that has stuck with me: the farmers in Belgium placing machine guns in their hay bales, preparing for World War II. The teachers in my building are excited to be covering this book; there's so much historical and musical background that can be used in the classroom. I only knew Duke Ellington through a few songs, but I'm now a devoted listener. Be on the lookout for this novel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I received a galley of "Riding on Duke's Train" because my school has adopted the novel into its 6th grade curriculum. This book is a teacher's dream--with well-rounded characters, an exciting plot, and plenty of music (to play in class). Duke Ellington, in particular, comes across as an in-depth, fascinating man. Teachers can incorporate lessons on the Jim Crow Laws and the Holocaust. I can honestly see "Duke's Train" opening young people's minds to jazz in general and Duke Ellington in particular. Like the reviewer above, I, too, found this a fine adult read as well. Highly recommended.
tswart More than 1 year ago
As an ELA department head, I've grown sick of "edgy" y.a. novels with no heart. Here comes Duke Ellington and his musicians to the rescue. Told by a ten year old, Danny, who has been adopted by the band, "Riding on Duke's Train" is a treat from the first page to the last. Because I'm also developing curriculum for it, I've now read the novel three times--and I'm looking forward to my fourth. As another reviewer remarked, adults can enjoy this wonderful story as much as adolescents. I find, too, that the characters/plot stay in the mind when I've put the book down. Top notch stuff--perfect for schools!
Dan_Liebfred More than 1 year ago
After having read an advanced copy, I am now a Duke Ellington fan. Although this novel is being marketed as a kids book, adults will love it, too. "Riding on Duke's Train" has it all: a fascinating story; fantastic characters; and a first person narrator, Danny, with a voice as unique as Huck's or Holden's. By Chapter 3 I was downloading Duke Ellington's music to accompany my reading. How did I live all these years without being truly aware of this man's music? I also have to thank Carlon for introducing me to Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and Rex Stewart. I am now aware of and listening to these incredible musicians. Educators across the country, listen up: Your students will LOVE this novel. And for everyone else, "Riding on Duke's Train" is one of the most rewarding reading experiences I've enjoyed in a long while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! As a former middle school and high school history teacher, I thought of the different interdiscipline ways it could be brought together into a unit- history, English, music, phys. ed., French, even math. What a dream for any teacher. Now, as a retired teacher and grandmother of four (including an eleven year old drummer) I can't wait to share it with my grandchildren. I am now going to share it with my sister and brother-in-law because I know they too will love it. This is the perfect gift - a book for all generations to enjoy.
PatMeh More than 1 year ago
We can't wait to teach this to our 7th graders this year. I can't add much to the other reviewers except to say that "Duke's Train" has opened my eyes (and ears) to the music of Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, and Ivie Anderson. It's heartbreaking to realize that these exceptional artists were treated like third class citizens in their own country--yet it's also inspiring to realize that they found the inner strength to keep on creating. Not to be corny, but I truly feel that this book can enrich a young person's life.
melvinf More than 1 year ago
I can't remember a time when my staff was so excited to teach a new book. We've all read the galley and have been planning our curriculum. I don't know if I can say anything new--but this novel has heart, humor, and a positive message. It also inspires readers--as least this reader--to seek out Duke's music.
Touchstone More than 1 year ago
"Riding on Duke's Train" has the kind of compelling subject matter, characters, and themes that too many "Young Adult" novels lack. Not only does it invite a second and third reading, "Riding on Duke's Train" unlocks a door into discovery and self-education that makes it entertaining and thought-provoking for young readers and adult readers alike. I know I became increasingly fascinated by Ellington while reading it. Carlon writes with an obvious love for and knowledge of the Duke, who emerges as both larger than life and intensely human; it's obvious that Carlon loves and knows jazz and the Duke. And it's not easy making musical description come to life on the printed page, but Carlon does that just as smoothly as he weaves the history of the times into the narrative of a young orphan out of Horatio Alger by way of Huck Finn. Great for teachers: what a way to talk about the thirties, race relations, African-American culture, the Harlem Renaissance, the rise of Nazism, and of course, jazz! Pour yourself a Tornado and read this with "Take the A Train" or "Such Sweet Thunder" playing in the background.
LauraW72 More than 1 year ago
Riding Duke’s Train by Mick Carlon is an absolute delight to read. I went on a journey with Carlon’s protagonist, young Daniel, and discovered a whole new world. First, I should admit I grew up in a Jazz household. My father loves Jazz, so Sundays meant the sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington would be creeping into all the corners of the house. I could not escape it. I also didn’t like it. It wasn’t until my college years that I discovered an appreciation for the music my father loved. Reading Danny’s story, I found myself reaching for the recordings of my childhood. I wanted a playlist to accompany the novel. Not only does Carlon evoke the time and place and characters, he evokes the music. In my mind’s eye, I could see the Duke, all of the characters for that matter, and I could hear the music playing. I look forward to reading this book with my children, as introduction to the music they too, hear on Sundays in our house.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Love this book, man! Hop onboard and travel with Duke and his "expensive gentlemen" all around the world! My grandson is not a reader and he said to me: "This is the first book I've ever wanted to read all the way through." I now have him reading the same author's Travels With Louis and he's digging that one, too. Duke Ellington forever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a book reviewer from a mid-sized daily and my desk is flooded with books of all descriptions. "Duke's Train" was so good--so funny, so involving, so moving--that I actually read it again, which is very rare for someone who reads books for a living. My fellow reviewers here are not exaggerating. This book is something very special.
steme71 More than 1 year ago
I was a fan of the same author's Travels With Louis first. Then I read Riding on Duke's Train. I love this just as much. Danny is a young boy who jumps on board a train one night--and the train belongs to Duke Ellington. You can't help but want to listen to Duke's music while reading this book. I kept going on YouTube to watch videos of Duke, Ivie Anderson, Johnny Hodges (he's Rabbit in the book) and Rex Stewart (and others). These books are being marketed as young adult fiction--but they are very enjoyable for adults, too. I would like to meet the author. I would thank him for introducing me to the music of Duke Ellington. This book would make a terrific movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Because Mick Carlon's Travels With Louis is so far my favorite novel of 2012--(and I'm 66 years old!)--I dove into Riding on Duke's Train with pleasure. It's quite a different novel, narrated (winningly) by young Danny, who hitches a ride one night on a silver train--Duke Ellington's train. What a ride! From 1939 Harlem to the streets of pre-war London and Paris, the reader plunges into Carlon's created world. I'm a jazz writer who met Duke several times and who knew many of his musicians, and this novel is absolutely true to the men I knew. Duke always protected himself with a veil of secrecy,and Carlon expertly portrays this. His Duke is friendly, generous, cool--but always a tad distant, exactly like the Duke I knew. I especially love the characters of Rex and Ivie, both of whom strive to help and educate young Danny. I understand that many schools have been adopting this novel into their curricula, and I can see why. After only a few pages, I began digging out my Ellington albums (on vinyl!) and re-listening to his peerless music. After reading Carlon's descriptions of songs like Boy Meets Horn, Concerto For Cootie, and Serenade to Sweden, one can't help but want to listen (and listen again!). Mick Carlon in both of these peerless novels is doing an immense service to our youth: Opening their hearts, minds, and ears to our nation's greatest contribution to world culture: Jazz. I highly recommend both Riding on Duke's Train and Travels With Louis. In the words of Duke, they are both "beyond category."
MagicWoman More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Everyone can benefit from this American icon and treasure - Duke Ellington!
DanielPDP More than 1 year ago
I am in Carlon's 7th grade ELA class this year, and I was just dieing to read his book. Sadly, we could not read for one of the books in the curiculum, but I did go out and buy the book and I shall say, without a doubt, that it is a VERY great book! Highly Recomend it!
deborah gilberto More than 1 year ago
I'm ashamed to admit that this 38 year old black woman was not aware of Duke Ellington's music. No more! My son raved about this book so much last year that I gave in and read it. I'm glad I did. Duke is now part of my and my son's regular listening. I also recommend to you the author's other book, Travels With Louis, about Louis Armstrong. It's different, but just as good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I taught this novel to my 7th graders last spring and will be teaching it again in April. Riding on Duke's Train caught my students' interest as much as The Outsiders. I highly recommend this book to anyone of any age.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just wrote an in-depth review of the author's Travels With Louis. I loved this book just as much. Riding on Duke's Train is a superlative read that can inspire young people to seek out America's greatest music, jazz. I highly recommend both books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am one of the last living members of Duke Ellington's Orchestra. I travelled the world with Duke, from Africa to Russia. So I began this novel with suspicion, not able to believe that any writer could capture Duke's essence. Was I wrong. This novel frequently had be close to tears because the Duke Ellington I knew lives again in these pages. It's all here--his warmth, yet his distance--his generosity, yet his (again) distance. I felt like Dan, the narrator, was myself. Plus, the Cootie Williams and Harry Carney in this novel are the men I knew. How did this author do this? Everyone who values American music must read this book. I've become a messenger, telling everyone I know about it. I frequently speak in schools and I'm telling every teacher that she or he must include Riding On Duke's Train in their school's curriculum. THIS NOVEL IS THAT GOOD.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know the author, he actually is a teacher at my school, BIS! for 6 and 7 graders!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked Travels With Louis a bit more--I like the father/son relationship in that book.  But this book is great, too.  A wild ride through Harlem and America and Europe with a boy named Danny and Duke and his musicians.  My grandson read this in school and loved it so much.  He's now reading it for the 3rd time!  Any book that gets my grandson to read is okay by me.
josh delomba More than 1 year ago
I read Travels With Louis first, then read this book.  I love them both.  Travels With Louis made my daughter a Louis Armstrong fan.  I bought her this book for Christmas and hope that she will now love Duke too.  Riding on Duke's Train is one fun book to read, educational too.