Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane

by Carole Boston Weatherford

Other authorsSean Qualls (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2008





Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (2008), Edition: First, 32 pages


This lyrical picture-book biography of John Coltrane focuses on his childhood and how he interpreted sounds before he made his music.

User reviews

LibraryThing member edevans
Before John was a Jazz Giant is a picture biography of the well known John Coltrane. This book recieved the Coretta Scott King Award. This book makes for a great read -aloud; most of the sentences begin with the phrase "Before John was a jazz giant". The illustrations are done wonderfully! I wish there was a cd that accompanied the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member debrasw
Summary: This tells about how John Coltrane grew up just like many normal children, yet he became a famous musician. The only difference was that he was always around music. Jazz on the radio, hymns in church, bands playing in the street, people humming everywhere and he kept his ears always open to the music. Then one day he picked up his horn and began to play!

Genre: Realistic Fiction. I would call this realistic fiction because the jazz musician John Coltrane did exist, but this story is not an actual biography. It tells about his life, but some of it is speculation and it does not have real fact to make it a biography. So this is therefore realistic fiction

characterization: John Coltrane is the protagonist in this story and he is somewhat flat. We know that he loved music and that he heard it everywhere he went, but we do not really get a feel for trials he may have gone through and we do not quite understand where he comes from. We do not necessarily see him grow as a person. Also it is all through someone elses' perspective, so we do not know his thoughts or feeling which would make him a more round character.

Media: Acrylic, collage, pencil
… (more)
LibraryThing member abarajas09
Genre: Biography
Review: this is a good example of a Biography because it is descriptive with both words and illustrations.
Media: Acrylic, collage, pencil
LibraryThing member dpiacun
This book is about Jazz singer John Coltrane and so Qualls illustrate are made to look like Africa art of that area. Quall used a lot of dark colors, with many circles in each picture. The pictures bring an almost musical style to the text, dancing out to the reader.
LibraryThing member saraluisa
The words and pictures of this book harmoniously produce an array of sounds for the reader to experience. The book ends with a reminder that John Coltrane was a listener before he was a creator. I take this as a message to be just as aware as little John was, for in our busy world we often forget to open our ears and, though it was not part of the book, our eyes to see the beauty of our world. Not as good as What Charlie Heard, but a fine book in its own regard.… (more)
LibraryThing member vicmelen
The book has repetition in it that is good for children that are just learning to read. The author sub line message is the importance of listening. The book can also be used for any elementary level. The words chosen are not difficult and easy to comprehend.
LibraryThing member JodiEasley
This a book describing the childhood of the Jazz Musician John Coltrane. Along with unique and beautiful artwork, this story has a very familiar repeating pattern that kids will enjoy. It talks of the familiar sounds John heard every day in his home and environment and how he associated that into his music. I would definitely put this book into my teaching collection.… (more)
LibraryThing member AleciaDesselle
Before John was a Jazz Giant, written by Carole Weatherford and illustrated by Sean Qualls, won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award in 2009. Qualls uses dark, soulful colors to set the mood of the story following a jazz great. Weatherford tells the story of all the sounds John Coltrane encountered, before he became a “jazz giant,” that exposed him to music. Qualls uses geometric shapes and lines throughout the story. John is always surrounded by circles which signifies the sounds of a trumpet, first in his head and then eventually out of the trumpet. Qualls did a great job having John center the page and all the sounds surround him. It allows young readers to interpret that sounds surround John and them everywhere.… (more)
LibraryThing member jegammon
Response - This simple picture book highlights the importance of how listening and appreciating one's surroundings can shape our talents and abilities. It is a simple biography of John Coltrane.

Curricular connection - Black History Month; Unit on biographies; read aloud
LibraryThing member jaimie919
When John was younger he would listen to music from different instruments. He was surrounded by music and enjoyed every bit of it. One day he picked up a horn and began playing. Despite being made fun of he did what he loved and that was music. This is great to show children to show them what influenced john to play. It is beautifully illustratred and keeps a child interested.… (more)
LibraryThing member jjsewanee
Before John Was A Jazz Giant is a Coretta Scott King Award winner; it is a picture book biography about the great jazz musician John Coltrane. This book would be great to use in an introductory music class or even in multi-cultural studies. The book follows John as a young boy and how he was influence to become the “jazz giant”. John listens to his grandma cooking in the kitchen, his grandpa’s sermons, the birds chirping at sunrise, etc. This book shows children that every sound they hear throughout the day could be turned into some sort of beat and could influence them to take up a musical instrument. The book also shows the black history of the South in the 1930’s, and how much music influenced many peoples lives then. The book is easy to read, repetitive and has a great rhythm. The illustrations are done by paint but by overlapping objects and creating texture with the paint, it looks a bit like a collage. In blank space the illustrator also uses shapes to fill up the emptiness, these could be used as identifiers with children who are too young to understand the other concepts.… (more)
LibraryThing member CamillaBean14
FANTASY: (age group: primary/secondary)
Although this book is placed in our world and uses people as a medium to display the story, it is still a good fantasy. It is a good fantasy because it takes everyday objects from our everyday lives and brings them to life in a way that we would not normally think would happen. It makes what happened to John seem much more animated, than it was in real life.… (more)
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Love the closing line of this book. I don't know much about John Coltrane's biography or music but this one line appears to sum up the influences on his art.
LibraryThing member hlmusiclover
I really liked this book because it gives you a glimpse into what may have been Coltrane's inspiration for music. Although this was a fictional story, it can be believable because many of musicians developed similar appreciation for music through the orchestration of the sounds of the city. Great Story!!!


Original language


Physical description

32 p.; 8.47 inches


0805079947 / 9780805079944


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