Rent Party Jazz
William Miller &
Lee & Low Books
Until about fifteen years ago someone looking for children's books about music could find little other than barnyard animals playing instruments or Instruments of the Orchestra-type books. Since then children's literature has undergone an exciting change, including jazz themes. Biographies of jazz artists for "young audiences" have appeared. Younger children have learned about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and others from picture books. Now, in Rent Party Jazz, award-winning children's author William Miller has brought us not the story of a jazz icon but a tale of jazz saving the day in the lives of ordinary people.
In 1930's New Orleans, young Sonny's mother has just been laid off at the fish cannery. Already working part-time on a coal wagon while attending school, Sonny is determined to do more to help his mother fend off eviction. Enter street performer/trumpet man Smilin' Jack, who sells Sonny on the idea of a "rent party", contributing "the best music in the world". Needless to say, the pair triumphs, while the neighbors have a ball in the process.
Imparting the dynamism and transformative power of jazz onto the printed page is no easy matter. Miller has managed to pull it off, greatly aided by the bold colors and vibrancy of Charlotte Riley-Webb's illustrations.