Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso

by Wendy Bell

ella by Andrea Davis Pinkney

illustrated by Brian Pinkney

  • Publisher and date: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002
  • Age/Grade Level: Reading level ages 5-9
  • Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy w/ animal personification, biography

Awards:

  • The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2003 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
  • Capitol Choices, 2002 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
  • Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2003 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
  • Choices, 2003 ; Cooperative Children’s Book Center; United States
  • Notable Children’s Books, 2003 ; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
  • Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, March 11, 2002 ; Cahners; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

  • Society of School Librarians International Book Awards Honor Book 2002 Social Studies-Grades K-6 United States

Instructional Elements

Author Information and Perspective: See on previous Pinkney listings.

Notes: The illustrator Brian Pinkney is the author’s husband. They have collaborated on many projects together. He specializes in a technique of painting which is uses a scratchboard–a white board covered with black ink, then scratched away to reveal the white underneath. Once the scratchboard drawings are finished, he tints them with transparent luma dyes and paints them with acrylics.

Resources/Activities:

http://www.smithsonianjazz.org/class/fitzgerald/ef_class_1.asp

This Smithsonian Site on Jazz has three sets of lessons which would be a lot of fun for students: Ella matching game, Ella Singing Lessons (a great way to introduce Scat Singing), and a set of lesson plans which may be utilized by the teacher to integrate the two other activities.

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: Famous settings in the history of Jazz music: Harlem in general, the Savoy Ballroom in particular, Carnegie Hall. The settings are very fantastical with the characters flying through the stars . . .

Characters: Scat Cat Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald.

Conflict: Not a strong theme in this work.

Themes: The development of the famous Jazz vocalist’s career.

Plot: See in review

Reviews

Reviewer: Dr. Judy Rowen (Children’s Literature)

Ostensibly narrated by a beboppin’ feline named Scat Cat Monroe, this book follows Ella Fitzgerald from her childhood in Yonkers, New York through the rise of her career; from winning a talent contest at the Apollo Theater to joining the Chick Webb Orchestra to scat singing with Dizzy Gillespie. The language is peppered with idioms from that period and flows to the beat of the music. Scratchboard illustrations and swirls of color add to the visual presentation of swing and bebop. An author’s note at the back fills in some of the concrete details missing from the text, such as names and dates. The book would be best enjoyed if paired with listening to selections from the included discography–otherwise I’m not certain that today’s children would entirely grasp what “scat” is, and they may not be familiar with “A Tisket, A Tasket.”

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