Jazz: A Black History Booklist for Preschool Cats


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A few years ago, my good friends and fellow educators entrusted me to play preschool with their son Ben, who is the same age as Ashman. Pretty naive of me to think teaching high school for ten years could prepare me for teaching three-year-olds, right? Ben and Ashman turned out to be the wriggliest force I had ever reckoned with! Nevertheless, I relished the challenge of finding topics and activities that held their interest. Jazz, a topic I selected in honor of Black History Month, turned out to have immense toddler appeal. Ben and Ashman loved learning about the instruments, rhythms and rhymes of this music born in New Orleans. I loved introducing them to notable Black musicians who made this style part of our American history. Here is a list of books we used to learn about jazz. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to explain the sensory activities we paired with the book…because if there’s one thing Ben and Ashman taught me, it’s that kids gotta move!

Jazz Baby

I kicked off our study of jazz with two slightly different books with the same title.

Jazz Baby by Weatherford

Jazz Baby by Carole Boston Weatherford is a sweet little rhyming book that focuses on the instruments used to play jazz.

Jazz Baby by Wheeler

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a toe-tapping text that highlights each family member’s role in putting baby to sleep.

This Jazz Man

This Jazz Man

This number book introduces kids to ten of the world’s greatest jazz musicians and their instruments. Instead of reading it, try singing it to the tune of “This Old Man.” Or if you’re like me and can’t sing at all, look it up on YouTube! After reading this book, Ben and Ashman enjoyed playing games on this PBS Kids site. They got really good at identifying the jazz instruments they heard playing.

When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat

When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat

In this book, a girl dreams Louis Armstrong teaches her to scat about her bubblegum. The nonsense rhyming language is a blast. For the full sensory experience, consider giving your kids a piece of bubblegum to chew while they listen to your read!

Baby Loves Jazz Greatest Hits

To extend their understanding of scat and Louis Armstrong, I played the scat songs from Baby Loves Jazz Greatest Hits album while Ben and Ashman colored this picture of Louis Armstrong.

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop

Charlie Parker Played Bebop

Author Christ Raschka has created a linguistically playful tribute to the great saxophonist Charlie Parker. This is another catchy book whose text can be sung. Slide on over to YouTube for some fun versions!

Before John Was a Jazz Giant

Before John Was a Jazz Giant

This book describes John Coltrane’s childhood and the sounds that influenced his music. I paired the books about Charlie Parker and John Coltrane with this art project:

Activity for Charlie Parker Played Be Bop

Ashman and Ben loved listening to jazz music while they blew their straws like saxophones!

A-Tisket, A-Tasket

A Tisket, A Tasket by Ella Fitzgerald

This book pairs strikingly vibrant illustrations with the lyrics to Ella Fitzgerald’s hit. After reading, we used the song to play a circle game much like duck-duck-goose. One person walks around the outside of the circle with a love letter in hand. He then drops it in front of a seated person who should pick up the letter and chase him all around the circle and back to his seat.

Whether you’re celebrating Black History Month, developing music appreciation, or just looking to get the wiggles out, I hope your kids have as much fun with these books as Ben and Ashman did. Happy reading!



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