Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra

by Wendy Bell

dukeby Andrea Davis Pinkney

illustrated by Brian Pinkney

  • Publisher and date: Scholastic, 1998
  • Age/Grade Level: Reading level ages 5-12
  • Genre: :  Informational biography, historical-regional realism, legend or hero tale


The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 1999 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Capitol Choices, 1998 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 1998 ; American Library Association-Booklist; United States
Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Third Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Los Angeles‘ 100 Best Books, 1998 ; IRA Children’s Literature and Reading SIG and the Los Angeles Unified School District; United States
Not Just for Children Any More, 2001 ; Children’s Book Council; United States
Notable Books for Children, 1999 ; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 1999 ; National Council for the Social Studies NCSS; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, March 1998 ; Cahners; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, May 1998 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal: Best Books, 1998 ; Cahners; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:
ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award Winner 1999 Non-Fiction United States
Coretta Scott King Awards Honor Book 1999 United States
Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Recommended Title 1999 United States
Randolph Caldecott Medal Honor Book 1999 United States
Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award, 2001 ; Nominee; Louisiana
Rhode Island Children’s Book Award, 2000 ; Nominee; Rhode Island
South Carolina Book Awards, 2001 ; Nominee; South Carolina

Instructional Elements

Author Information and Perspective: See previous.

Notes: This author often collaborates with her husband as illustrator.



This is a set of five lessons designed to teach students about the life and work of Duke Ellington. The site was designed for the Duke Ellington Centennial and seems to be sponsored by ArtsEdge, the Smithsonian,  and MENC (the Music Educator’s National Conference).

Specific Applications in Reading Instruction: This book could be used with upper elementary in guided reading groups and as a read-a-loud by the teacher to students in grades four and up. I recommend grades four and up and a guided reading group because there is a lot of slang particular to both Jazz and the era of the book that will need to be explained by the teacher. 

Curriculum Connections:

This book could be used in the general music classroom as part of a unit on Jazz music or African American music history.

Literary Elements

Setting: During Ellington’s lifetime from 1899 to his 1943 performance at Carnegie Hall–from Washington,D.C., to the Cotton Club of Harlem, NY and then on to Carnegie Hall.

Characters: Duke Ellington along with the various instrumentalists and composers he worked with throughout his career.

Conflict: Not evident in this style of book.

Themes: The development of Duke’s personal Jazz skills as well as the development and acceptance of Jazz itself as an art form.

Plot: See in review


Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature)

Duke Ellington was born at the turn of the century (1899) in Washington, D.C. He learned to play the piano at an early age, but it wasn’t to his liking. But one day, when he heard someone playing ragtime on the piano, his interest was captured and he had to learn. He started to create his own music and, as they say, the rest was history. “Duke,” as he was called, was popular and soon his band was asked to play at the prestigious Cotton Club in Harlem. His music was broadcast on radio and his band became an orchestra. His career spanned most of the 20th century and even 24 years after his death, his songs and music are still loved and played. The scratchboard illustrations by Brian Pinkney are alive with the swirling movements of Duke Ellington’s music and the musicians who starred in his orchestra. A great introduction and brief look at the life of an African-American musical genius.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: