Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz with 21 Activities
By Stephanie Stein Crease
Chicago Review Press
ISBN: 9781556527241
Grades 5 and Up
In Stores February 1st, 2009


Biographies can have a tough life. Their charms are often lost on young readers who are more focused on the latest hyped-up fiction or eye-catching nonfiction titles. I can see why this is the case – biographies can come across as being more utilitarian than entertaining. Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz tries its best to provide the facts in ways that will appeal to young readers. Duke Ellington… is an unquestionably well crafted title. Text that is detailed and accessible, images that are large and crystal clear, and an interactive twist make this title stand out.

With over 2,000 compositions and numerous musical achievements, Ellington’s body of work was immense. Author Stephanie Stein Crease treats the musician’s life and career with obvious admiration. From his early days of playing piano at parties to the formation and growth of his renowned jazz orchestra, Ellington’s story is presented in a clear, conversational tone that adds to the overall readability. A time line and a multitude of sidebars help to add context.

When I first saw this book, the thing that stuck with me was the “with 21 activities” in the title. I wondered how well this would work. The verdict? Not too shabby. The various, step-by-step Ellington-related activities range from the just for fun (make a concert poster) to more in depth (writing your own blues melody). This mix was a good choice – it allows a wide variety of readers to take part if they like. Musical talent is not required.

While it’s likely that only the most interested of young readers will read this title cover to cover, Duke Ellington… will also ably serve students who are looking for facts or working on a biography of the man. If you’re looking for an update in your Ellington bio section, this will make an excellent choice.

Check out the Nonfiction Monday roundup at SimplyScience Blog.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.