Theo and the Blue Note

Theo and the Blue Note

by Peter Kuper
All Theo the cat wants to do is play the sax, even though he only knows one note. But when a rocket ship equipped with a jazz-playing jukebox zooms him to the moon, Theo meets the jazz combo of his dreams-- Charlie Porker, Nat King Cobra, Duck Ellington, and more. He gets to jam with the greats, who show Theo that there's more to being a jiving


All Theo the cat wants to do is play the sax, even though he only knows one note. But when a rocket ship equipped with a jazz-playing jukebox zooms him to the moon, Theo meets the jazz combo of his dreams-- Charlie Porker, Nat King Cobra, Duck Ellington, and more. He gets to jam with the greats, who show Theo that there's more to being a jiving cool cat than just one blue note.

Peter Kuper's one-of-a-kind illustrations--created using intricately cut stencils, spray paint, and collage--shake and shimmy across the page, just like jazz itself.

About the Author: Peter Kuper's illustrations and comics appear regularly in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, and MAD, for which he writes and illustrates Spy vs. Spy. Mr. Kuper, shown here with his daughter, lives in New York City and Oaxaca, Mexico.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a debut picture book sprinkled with jazz allusions, Kuper (Sticks and Stones) introduces Theo, a saxophonist cat who "practiced Day and Night. But all he managed to learn was one blue note." Theo is "feeling Kind of Blue" when a glowing golden rocket-shaped like a soprano sax-materializes in his backyard. To the sounds of a jukebox, he blasts off to the moon, where he discovers a nightclub-spaceship named the Apollo. Theo climbs the Apollo's Giant Steps and walks in on a jam session by bassist Nat King Cobra, xylophonist Lionel Hamster and singer Elephants Gerald. When band leader Duck Ellington-a cross between early Daffy and Cab Calloway-complains that their tune has "the red note, the green, the yellow... but something's still missing," Theo leaps onstage and provides literally "all the blues" including indigo, periwinkle, cyan and cobalt. Kuper pictures Theo himself in an inky navy-blue, in keeping with the cat's cool sound. The illustrations nod to 1920s and '30s animation, and appear colorized in shadowy blues and warm hazy golds; with his snub nose and noodly limbs, Theo resembles Krazy Kat, and Kuper blurs his illustrations' edges for a grainy freeze-frame effect. Kuper's direct, unpoetic language doesn't convey a jazzy rhythm or tone. Yet jazz fans will pick up on the puns, and readers might imagine hearing a rainbow of colors. Ages 4-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Theo desperately longs to be a jazz cat but can only manage a single blue note on his saxophone despite hours of practice. One magical night, when the moon is full, a rocket ship—that looks suspiciously like a clarinet—lands in his back yard and takes him skyward. When he arrives on the moon, he finds the Apollo, nightclub cum spaceship, and meets all the jazz greats—Duck Ellington, Charlie Porker, Elephants Gerald—and finds a way to play all the blue notes that now fit right in with the jazz jam underway. The graphic novel style illustrations are colorful, lively, and emotionally evocative; similarly, the text varies in size and color to visually emphasize mood and intensity. The book design, also by Kuper, is a well-crafted work of art. Illustrations entirely cover all the pages and even the endpapers contribute to the story, portraying Theo's transformation from frustrated to satisfied musician. The TP Verso text is actually arranged to resemble a large musical note and concludes with a short definition of a "blue note." The acknowledgements page includes a description of the artistic media and a brief author bio is given on the dust jacket. Although the publisher indicates this book is appropriate for ages 3 and up, it would require an older reader to navigate the vocabulary. The story line is simple, imaginative, and conveys the author's love of jazz. Format and tale combine to make an ideal read aloud for young children as bedtime story or as group discussion starter in the classroom. Theo's tale could serve as an introduction to instruments, the value of dreams and aspirations, the genre of jazz, or to biographical consideration of jazz musicianspresented here as their animal counterparts.
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 4-A fine picture-book debut from the creator of MAD magazine's popular "SPY vs. SPY" cartoons. In this flashback to the 1950s beatnik generation, Theo is a beret-wearing hep cat who loves to play his saxophone. Unfortunately, he can only blow one blue note. One night, a clarinet-shaped rocket appears in his yard. The ship carries him to the moon, where he finds another spacecraft (the Apollo) and a band made up of famous performers such as Duck Ellington, Nat King Cobra, and Elephants Gerald. Theo joins the jam session, and with Duck's help on the piano, is soon "playing all the BLUES!" (sky, indigo, periwinkle, etc.). The Apollo takes off, "blasting COOL jazz with a HOT beat-." Done in watercolors, colored pencils, and collage, the blue-tinged illustrations reflect the story's tone. Spray-painted backgrounds add texture and give the artwork a dreamlike quality. The gleaming gold rocket signifies Theo's change in mood, which brightens when he finds the other musicians, and the book ends on a scintillating yellow note. This enjoyable story presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to jazz and the artists alluded to. Team this "razzmatazz" tale with Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (Scholastic, 1992) and similar titles for a swinging storytime ensemble.-Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A jazz cat with a limited repertoire finds his musical groove via a magical journey. Feline Theo practices his saxophone day and night, but all he can master is a single blue note. Fortunately, a flash in the sky rescues him from his doldrums. When he looks out the window, he sees a gleaming yellow rocket ship in the shape of a clarinet. "Before you could say be-bop," it flies him to the moon and a shiny club called The Apollo, where (up the Giant Steps) a big band of famous musicians-Duck Ellington, Elephants Gerald and Lionel Hamster, for starters-show Theo a myriad of notes, and his blue one fits right in. The Apollo club flies Theo back home, with a promise to jam again at the next full moon. Kuper's playful arrangements of text work well with the warm glow of his illustrations, which employ stencils, spray paint, watercolors, colored pencils and collage. A slight but serendipitous odyssey that owes its props to Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (1992). (Picture book. 5-9)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.88(w) x 11.24(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
3 - 8 Years

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