by Rachel Isadora (Greenwillow Books, 1979. 32 pp.)
With limited text and striking black and white art deco-inspired art, the author tells the story of a young boy in the 1920s who sits on his fire escape longing to play jazz music like he hears coming from the nearby “Zig Zag Jazz Club.” Aside from introducing young readers to the instruments used to create jazz sounds, the book shows how one boy's artistic bent can feed a dream only another artist can truly understand.
Before Reading Ben's Trumpet
Ask the children to talk about their favorite types of music. Invite children who understand about different types of music to share what they know with the group. Show the group the book, Ben's Trumpet. Ask the children to tell how the book looks different from other picture books they know (Possible responses: the pictures are in black and white, the illustrations are comprised of outlines, silhouettes and abstract designs).
After Reading Ben's Trumpet
Ask the children what problems Ben has in seeing his dream of playing jazz come true (e.g., He doesn't own an instrument; his friends make fun of him). Do they believe Ben will ever learn to play the trumpet? Why? Why doesn't Ben's family buy him a trumpet? (Remind children that in the 1920s many families didn't have much money to buy expensive things for their children.)
Help students to understand that, especially at the beginning of the jazz movement, most of the jazz musicians were African-American men. Tell the children that many of these musicians were not allowed to play in the musical clubs with white owners (or, even in those white-owned clubs where they were allowed, other black people were not allowed into the audience). So, they created their own jazz clubs, much like the “Zig Zag Jazz Club.” If possible, invite a jazz musician (or music teacher) to visit your classroom to introduce the children to the instruments pictured in the book. Ask the musician to tell about the roots of jazz music, or share portions of the book Jazz by Langston Hughes (Franklin Watts, 1982). Jazz offers a brief history of jazz as well as mini-biographies of jazz greats. Also included is a glossary of jazz terms.
Point out to the children that the writer has chosen an art deco style of art (popular in the 1920s) to illustrate the book. Show the children art books featuring other examples of art deco works. Ask the children to describe how the artist used this style of art to make the book's illustrations “look like” the sounds of jazz music. Offer the children black tempera paint and white paper. Play selections of jazz music and have the children paint what they hear. Have children share their paintings and their reactions to the music. How does it differ from other music they know?