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John Coltrane's Giant Steps [Hardcover]

Chris Raschka
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 1 2002 Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover)
You may be surprised
at the tricky music
a box,
a snowflake,
some raindrops,
and a kitten
can make.

Right before your eyes.
And on the pages
of this book.

There is someone
backstage
watching, encouraging
our performers
but keeping them
under control.

Why not
listen along?

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Product Details


Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This innovative visual deconstruction of one of jazz saxophonist Coltrane's most beloved compositions may be Raschka's (Mysterious Thelonious) most ambitious picture book yet. After a playful introduction ("Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book"), the unseen narratorconductor introduces the performers a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten a tongue-in-cheek nod to Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things"). The book does not require previous awareness of the jazz great's work, however. Each performer (representing percussion, bass, piano and sax) appears in a different color and shape (Raschka riffs on primary red, yellow and blue, and the basic square, triangle and circle). The performance begins, only to be interrupted when the kitten ("the melody on top of everything") takes steps a little too large ("People, people! What happened?"). Some coaching finally produces what Coltrane called "sheets of sound." Raschka's transparent watercolors layer colors and shapes the way a musician would notes and harmonies. Stunningly simple, the concept provides a compelling introduction to Coltrane's genius. Those who possess a little musical knowledge will delight in such arch references as "remixed by Chris Raschka" on the title page and the conductor's hilarious critique ("First of all, raindrops, you were rushing on page 19"). Even the jacket repeats the book's central conceit: a clear plastic wrap featuring the kitten, painted in thick black outline, overlays the other elements. A must for jazz enthusiasts and, for first-timers, a clever introduction to this wildly creative musical genre. Ages 4-7.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

PreSchool-Grade 5-Paw forward, the cat featured in Raschka's Simple Gifts (Holt, 1998) graces the clear cellophane jacket of this book. Her thick, black, inked contours overlay the watercolor, biomorphic forms on the book's front cover-a box, snowflake, and raindrop-the performers of Coltrane's jazz classic "Giant Steps." An offstage narrator/conductor prepares listeners for "swirling, leaping, tumbling 'sheets of sound.'" In the ensuing double spreads, the 4/4 tempo is introduced by a quartet of raindrops (drums); the foundation is then formed with an overlay of boxes (the bass). Snowflakes (the piano) build up next to represent harmony, and, at last, the kitten (sax) dances across the shapes, bringing the melody. The conductor, however, is not pleased, so after some comments, the piece is played again, winding down to a quiet curtain call of the four isolated images. The sequential design and layering of the organic forms are a creative, joyful, and energetic match for the pulsing momentum and resolution in the music. Raschka manages to distill body and soul and "remix" Coltrane's sound graphically, and the book offers an engaging intellectual and sensory experience. Presenting it with the music itself is a must. Bravo, maestro!-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Good evening. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Visual Jazz Masterpiece..... Oct. 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
"Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition, "Giant Steps," performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten..." So begins the conductor's introduction to Chris Raschka's brilliant visual jazz rendition of Giant Steps. First he explains a little about who John Coltrane is, and how his music was composed, "...[he] wrote music which, in his hands, became swirling, leaping, tumbling "sheets of sound." That's what he called it. But why tell you when we can show you?" Then the composition begins with the raindrops, the tempo, "not too fast and not too slow." Next he layers the box, the base, "...the bottom. It's something to build on." Here comes the snowflake, the piano, "showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame." And last, the kitten, the melody, "watch her take some giant steps across the page." As Mr Raschka "conducts", problems begin to occur, the shapes and colors collapse, and he finally yells STOP! "People, people! What happened? Okay, okay, let's take a look at some trouble spots." After detailing when, where and how each shape went wrong, and giving constructive directions, the composition begins again. "Let's take it from page 14. Raindrop, box, snowflake, kitten. GO. Sheets of color. Sheets of sound. Bravo. Bravo, everyone." Mr Raschka's entertaining text, written in an engaging, conversational style, is informative and enlightening. His layering of shapes and colors provides a clever and creative visual understanding of jazz and John Coltrane's "sheets of sound. Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars A Visual Jazz Masterpiece..... Oct. 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
"Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition, "Giant Steps," performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten..." So begins the conductor's introduction to Chris Raschka's brilliant visual jazz rendition of Giant Steps. First he explains a little about who John Coltrane is, and how his music was composed, "...[he] wrote music which, in his hands, became swirling, leaping, tumbling "sheets of sound." That's what he called it. But why tell you when we can show you?" Then the composition begins with the raindrops, the tempo, "not too fast and not too slow." Next he layers the box, the base, "...the bottom. It's something to build on." Here comes the snowflake, the piano, "showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame." And last, the kitten, the melody, "watch her take some giant steps across the page." As Mr Raschka "conducts", problems begin to occur, the shapes and colors collapse, and he finally yells STOP! "People, people! What happened? Okay, okay, let's take a look at some trouble spots." After detailing when, where and how each shape went wrong, and giving constructive directions, the composition begins again. "Let's take it from page 14. Raindrop, box, snowflake, kitten. GO. Sheets of color. Sheets of sound. Bravo. Bravo, everyone." Mr Raschka's entertaining text, written in an engaging, conversational style, is informative and enlightening. His layering of shapes and colors provides a clever and creative visual understanding of jazz and John Coltrane's "sheets of sound. Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing and creative Aug. 15 2002
Format:Hardcover
This book is really something! It's unlike any other book I've ever read. It is not just a book -- it is an experience. What a creative mind Chris Raschka has! My 4 year old and my 7 year old both loved it. So did I. I highly recommend it.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent teaching tool for musical texture! April 24 2006
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Another beautiful book from Raschka. My students loved it when I read it and played the tune during a musical texture lesson. Highly recommended!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, Interesting, and Imaginative, but Perhaps Best for Adults or Kids Guided by Them July 24 2006
By M. Allen Greenbaum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Chris Raschka is one of our most ambitious children's book illustrators. When he's good, he's great, and he wins the Caldecott Award for best children's illustration. When he tries too hard, he's sly but opaque, clever but obscure. "Waffle," for example, plays with concept at the expense of clarity, and the result is a disappointing mish-mosh. This book is on the heady side, but musically-inclined youngsters guided by a talented teacher, parent, or other adult will enjoy's Raschka's imaginative deconstruction/reconstruction of Coltrane's magnificent jazz piece.

Raschka almost nails it with this visual and verbal description of saxophonist John Coltrane's incredible "Giant Steps," a landmark number of dizzying complexity, speed, and joy that most energetic younsters would like on its own. However, much of the appeal lies in a very intellectual exercise requiring levels of abstract thinking and reading ability beyond most of the young audience who will be attracted to the picture book format. However, teenagers, pre-adolescents with a musical bent, and adults will appreciate Raschka sensitive evaluation of Coltrane's talent. Younger kids might like the colorful (although not vividly colorful) pictures, and the pictures of the raindrops, snowflake, and cat. However, these by themselves are not that appealing, and the song's "narration" is clever but not a very interesting story. That is why the book doesn't quite work for early elementary school-age kids reading it on their own.

The most fascinating aspect of Raschka's "Giant Steps" is that he purposely draws the song all wrong! The book disappoints, and then tricks us, because Raschka knows exactly what he was doing. The cat narrator leads the shapes and colors in a visual performance of Coltrane's number, but the impression is, well, unimpressive. Even for a metaphor of Coltrane's music, the colors look blurry and the composition are unfocused.

However, at a break in the performance (on pages 24 and 25), Raschka gently tells us that the preceeding images (by Raschka) were not quite right, were not Coltrane. The "performers" (and the reader) must understand that Coltrane was strong, yes, but "strong yet light." The colors should be rich, not "muddy," because "Coltrane's music is dense but transparent." And while Coltrane did blow "a fountain of notes, a shower of notes...those notes made lines that were dynamic and strong and vivid." In a remarkable performace of his own,. Raschka redraws the musical sequence to reflect these attributes, and this time he captures the rhythms, sounds, and energetic clarity of Coltrane. It's a masterful achievement, but I don't know how many kids will appreciate it. A dazzling, albeit puzzling, work that stands, as Ellington once said, "beyond category."
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't play no game. Just play me John Coltrane. May 16 2005
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When you review a picture book you have a responsibility to two kinds of consumers: The parents who buy the books and the children who read them. Now when I was a kid you probably could've handed me junky handwritten papers illustrated in crayon and I would've loved them. Children know what they do and do not like and it is the responsibility of their parents to choose well-written worthwhile books that will stand the test of time for their youngsters' brains. However, at the same time you don't want to be the kind of parent who only gets books for your kids that are "good' for them. I see these kinds of adults all the time. Unfortunate children are dragged to my library and forced to read books like "Gulliver's Travels" and "Treasure Island" which, while good, aren't the kinds of books that reluctant readers are instantly going to gravitate towards. The same goes for picture books. Sometimes I'll recommend a picture book that children may initially find dull or confusing simply because it's either a work of art or so well-written that I'm sure the children will grow to love it. Which brings me, in a definitely roundabout way, to "John Coltrane's Giant Steps". This is a book that undoubtedly seemed like a good idea when it was thought up. I mean, what could be cooler? You take a John Coltrane song and then using artist Chris Raschka's remarkable watercolor and inks show the song as a visual piece of work. The idea is sublime. The result is deathly dull and confusing for kids.

If you are not familiar with "Giant Steps" the song, you may wish to listen to it as you read this book. The book begins with the words, "Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition `Giant Steps,' performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten. Why not stay and see it?". Why not indeed. The song begins well enough. The raindrops (featured as all blue or while within blue) provide the tempo. The box is the "foundation" or bottom. The snowflake is the harmony. Finally, the kitten is the melody. The song proceeds nicely enough until it collapses into a seething pile of confusion. The narrator chastises each element and corrects them (using a red colored pencil to circle faults and flaws). Helpful comments include lines like, "I know you're our foundation and you've got to be strong. But can you be strong yet light?". They try again with far better results and the book ends on a high (ha ha) note.

I think I've figured out why the book doesn't work. It isn't just that Raschka has failed to include a cd of the song (a necessity). This is simply a book that has to be read with a cd that speaks to the reader and stops and starts the music perfectly with the book. Otherwise, there's no point in playing the song with this book when the text halts midway through to make corrections. Now I love Raschka's style, don't get me wrong. But the book would still be interesting to children if he'd gone so far as to make the kitten a little more realistic and a little less expressionistic.

In a way, I feel that Chris Raschka just strove a little too hard. This book's a work of art, no question. But it's just not interesting to kids. I'm not saying the right kind of dedicated parent couldn't MAKE their kids interested in it. But this isn't the kind of picture book I see the kiddies pulling down off of the shelf to take home. Mostly, this is a book appreciated by adults who want their children to like jazz. Good luck with that. There are plenty of great jazz-based picture books out there, you know. "Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso", by Andrea Davis Pinkney is a fine example. But this is a picture book that will be loved by children over the age of 12. Just bear that in mind should you purchase it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Coltrane's Giant Steps is a Good Book! Nov. 28 2005
By EM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We really liked reading John Coltrane's Giant Steps. We want to read it again and again. The pictures look very cool. We like the way that the illustrator created all the shapes like the box, the snowflake, and the raindrops. We also like the words that the author uses to describe the music.

Our favorite part was when the director tells the shapes and the kitten what they did wrong. Listening to the music really helped us understand the book. Some of us wish that the author had given us the cd with the book. Others of us think it was great the way it was!

Chris Raschka writes good books!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Visual Jazz Masterpiece..... Oct. 23 2002
By Roz Levine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition, "Giant Steps," performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten..." So begins the conductor's introduction to Chris Raschka's brilliant visual jazz rendition of Giant Steps. First he explains a little about who John Coltrane is, and how his music was composed, "...[he] wrote music which, in his hands, became swirling, leaping, tumbling "sheets of sound." That's what he called it. But why tell you when we can show you?" Then the composition begins with the raindrops, the tempo, "not too fast and not too slow." Next he layers the box, the base, "...the bottom. It's something to build on." Here comes the snowflake, the piano, "showing us the harmony, the beautiful frame." And last, the kitten, the melody, "watch her take some giant steps across the page." As Mr Raschka "conducts", problems begin to occur, the shapes and colors collapse, and he finally yells STOP! "People, people! What happened? Okay, okay, let's take a look at some trouble spots." After detailing when, where and how each shape went wrong, and giving constructive directions, the composition begins again. "Let's take it from page 14. Raindrop, box, snowflake, kitten. GO. Sheets of color. Sheets of sound. Bravo. Bravo, everyone." Mr Raschka's entertaining text, written in an engaging, conversational style, is informative and enlightening. His layering of shapes and colors provides a clever and creative visual understanding of jazz and John Coltrane's "sheets of sound." Together word and art dazzles, Giant Steps comes to life on the page, and imaginations soar. Perfect for youngsters 6-10, John Coltrane's Giant Steps is Chris Raschka at his very best, and is an innovative and inventive introduction to understanding jazz, no young music lover should miss.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Small Steps... July 21 2005
By R, your friendly neighborhood reviewer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Chris Raschka has to be one of my favorite illustrators. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Yo! Yes?, a Caldecott Honoree, and Arlene Sardine are some of my favorite picture books of all time. But when I picked up John Coltrane's Giant Steps, things changed. Yes, Giant Steps is creative. Yes, it's gutsy. But on paper, 'Steps' falls flat on it's artsy face.

The first pages of Giant Steps introduce us to 'a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten', our performers. We are then told (while the 'performers are limbering up') about the Giant Steps' composer, a man by the name of John Coltrane. Afterwards the box, the snowflake, the raindrops, and the kitten begin their strange dance, blending their differing colors in 'harmony'. The performers carry on with their dance, by now leaving the young readers either confused or annoyed. Then the dance suddenly stops, and the narrorator corrects our dancers on their various mistakes. And then the dance begins again! *Sighs*

I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say that ninety-nine percent of children will not enjoy this book. The one percent (if that many) that will, have already heard of John Coltrane and his Giant Steps. The other ninety-nine, like I said before, will probably hate it, like I, myself did. Even Chris Raschka's paintings do little to distract the viewer from this terrible book! I'll admit that Giant Steps had a beautiful and creative premise, but it sadly falls into the cliche of 'Just because it sounds good, doesn't mean it'll look good on paper!'

R, your friendly neighborhood reviewer.
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