When Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie played music together in the 1940s, they forged a new kind of music—bebop. Gary Golio’s new picture book, with exuberant illustrations by Ed Young, is a lively tribute to the form.
“Salt Pea-nuts! Salt Pea-nuts!” the book opens. Readers who go with the flow enter a world of music and motion, energy and rhythm. Golio’s spare text explains how “Bird” and “Diz” played together “just like kids.” A mere nod or look from one to the other communicated just enough to get a song going in the right direction. The two musicians would take turns, but it was “Two hearts—one heartbeat.”
The free verse is playful (“Tag, Bird—you’re it!”), and vivid metaphors charm. (Diz would swell his cheek like “a frog with glasses” while he played.) Both author and illustrator capture this one piece, “Salt Peanuts!” and bring a moment of time to vivid life, as the two musicians play off one another, the performance like a child’s game or like jugglers tossing music back and forth.
The book is designed with accordion pages with text and art on both sides, which the reader can unwind into one long spread. To call Young’s art dazzling is no exaggeration, as it pops with splashes of color and bold lines that swirl and swoop, spin and curl. The muted cover is no indication of the eye-popping action inside this book.
An afterword from Golio provides a brief history of bebop and the revolution it was—and how Bird and Diz brought it to life. Best of all, Golio encourages readers to get online and see the two musicians play “Hot House” live, and he recommends two CDs. “Now pick up your crayons and draw!” he adds. After seeing this sensational art, many readers may feel compelled to do just that.
Bebop has never been so beautiful.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.