Inspiring Picture Book Biographies: Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrator: Sean Qualls

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company

Themes: music, musicians, biography, jazz, family

Age Range: 5-9

Word Count: 164 words

Teaching Tools:

Jazz Lesson Ideas from BrainPop Educators

Jazz Lesson Plans and Activities from PBS Kids

More picture books about jazz

Jazz Appreciation Month

Why I Love It:

Before John Was a Jazz Giant is short, snappy, and paints a vivid picture of young John Coltrane. I love the approach of showing how growing up in the South in the 1930s and being exposed to so many wonderful noises during childhood shaped the sound of an amazing musician. This is a fun, poetic introduction to jazz for kids of all ages. The book was a 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book and a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.


Before John was a jazz giant…

he heard hambones knocking in Grandma’s pots,

Daddy strumming the ukulele,

and Mama cranking the phonograph.

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.

From School Library Journal: “Weatherford's evocative poem traces Coltrane's influences simply and stunningly. Qualls's muted palette of rich hues suggests the smoky jazz moods he would create.”

Author Tidbit: Carole Boston Weatherford was born and raised in Baltimore. She created her first poem in first grade. She holds an M.A. in publications design from University of Baltimore and an M.F.A. in creative writing from University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is an English professor at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

Illustrator Tidbit: Sean Qualls grew up in New Jersey and lives in Brooklyn, New York. He paints with acrylic and sometimes tempera and uses pencil to fill in detail. He also uses old newsprint that he paints over to collage with.

Available On:


Barnes & Noble

Author Michelle Meadows blogs about her favorite short and snappy books on the Short & Snappy Happy Book Blog – a resource for teachers, librarians, parents, and other book lovers. Subscribe

#music #musicians #biography #jazz #family #picturebookbiography #AfricanAmericanhistory

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