“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite ▪ Picture Book with Audio CD

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite
By Anna Harwell Celenza ▪ Illustrated by Don Tate
November 2011 ▪ Charlesbridge ▪ Picture Book with Audio CD
Hop-a-tooty and slim-slam-a-booty.
Story:  In 1960 the great Duke Ellington and his friend and collaborator 
Billy Strayhorn put a jazzy spin on a holiday classic and created the nuttiest Nutcracker of all. 

Anna Harwell Celenza has brought the story behind the story of some of the greatest musical compositions to young readers, including Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony, and even Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But now she swings with some jumpin’ new cats—Duke Ellington’s orchestra with Billy Strayhorn. These two jazz giants took on Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece and infused it with glitz and glam for a modern holiday celebration that goes crazy with the musical influences of the time. A fun story, full of the slang of 1960s jazz cats, and the sounds of New Orleans, Harlem, and Las Vegas. A CD of the original Columbia Records recording with the Duke Ellington Orchestra is included. 

Story behind the story: "Listening to music is liberating," says author Anna Celenza.  "For me, it’s like reading a book: sometimes I do it alone; sometimes I like to share the experience.  That’s why I wrote Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.  For years, I’ve enjoyed listening to the Nutcracker. Now I hope to share this music with readers like you! My love of Duke’s music inspired me to look for the story behind the notes. There I discovered a close-knit group of friends and musicians: the “cats” in Ellington’s band.  As Duke’s best friend Billy Strayhorn once said: 'They’re beyond category!'

Duke and Billy didn’t like to be categorized, that’s why they blended classical music and jazz.  You can see the band in action here: 

Never has the Nutcracker been so hip!"

"If my books can make classical music more accessible to kids,
that would be a dream come true."

Anna grew up on a farm in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina. She played the cello in the Greensboro Youth Orchestra and the drums in her high school marching band and jazz band. Music and the arts have always been an important part of her life, leading her to a B.A in art history and music history from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, studies in art history at the Rijks-University Gent in Ghent, Belgium, and an M.A. and Ph.D.in musicology from Duke University. 

Her expertise in art and music history, combined with her passion for music and her love of literature, led her to write The Farewell Symphony, her first children's book. She realized that there were few books that introduce children to specific works of classical music. Children are exposed to classical music everyday in commercials and cartoons and even in pop music, but they aren't exposed to the stories and the history behind these compositions. In her workshops and children's classes, and now in her books, Anna ensures that children come away with an appreciation, even a love, of classical music.  Currently the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV programs including NPR's "Todd Mundt Show," BBC's "Music Matters" and "Prom Broadcasts," and C-Span's "Book-TV" and she's served as a writer and guest commentator for Michigan Public Radio and NPR's "Performance Today."  

"Love jazz? Want to pass that love along to your children? Then pick up a copy of Anna Harwell Celenza’s wonderful book, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, illustrated by Don Tate and it includes a CD recording! Together with his friend, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington composed, orchestrated, and recorded some of the greatest jazz classics…. This one is a keeper!" – Alan Caruba

“Laced with invented dialogue and crisply delineating the close collaboration between Ellington and his brilliant, classically trained friend, Billy Strayhorn, the narrative traces the piece from radical idea to work in progress to exuberant recording session…. The brilliant music cues Tate’s full-bleed mixed-media pictures. … The delightful accompanying full-length CD is a must-listen, since text and art mesh with it in genuine symbiosis, song by song….real cool.” – Kirkus Reviews 

FYI:  All the review copies for this title have been sent.  Please check back and see the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say...



Angela said...

I think this book would be great to use when teaching the trait of voice in writing. I often use music to illustrate the trait and the way Ellington changed the voice of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite would be a nice concrete example to use, most appropriately with 3-5 graders and beyond, in my opinion. Love that the book comes with an audio CD to bring the images the words create to life. The book requires some background knowledge to fully comprehend and may be a good jumping off place for more research for interested students. Plenty of new vocabulary pertaining to the theme of the book engages the reader and encourages us to learn more. 5 Stars.

PLLoggerR said...

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza brings to life a part of music history that few will be aware of. The story is written in an upbeat manner, in keeping with the jazz of Ellington, but will take some explaining for most elementary students. However, I see this as a wonderful book to use in a music class (or even English!) to compare and contrast musical (or English!)styles and themes. Bring in geography, build a unit around the book and all it might lead to.
The book is a 4 on The Picnic Basket scale.
Director, Peacham Library

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Catherine said...

This is a wonderful book. I loved the story and illustrations. This is great to use to with older kids to explore creativity and music. I can't wait to use this in the classroom. I can see my high school students using this to create their own picture book for their younger classmates.

5 out of 5

Catherine Yezak, Special Education Teacher, Marquette Area Public Schools, Marquette, Michigan

Mrs. Stearns said...

Review of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite
By Anna Harwell Celenza ▪ Illustrated by Don Tate
This book will be a great addition to any classroom. The book with its invented dialogues will add a personal link to any study of the jazz age or the 1960s. The text provides wonderful insight to the music of Duke Ellington. The book is very readable and the pictures extend the text and provide information about the setting. The CD makes the book memorable.

Susan Appleton said...

I absolutely loved this book! The illustrations were great and the history of Ellington's Nutcracker Suite was VERY interesting! After I read the book, I went back and listened to the CD with the book out and just loved it! Definitely a MUST HAVE book and I give it a 5/5!

New Jersey Nutcracker said...

This is really a great composition. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Infect danced as well.

loonyhiker said...

This was a great picture book with audio CD. It was really interesting and entertaining. The illustrations would definitely hold a student’s interest. This book could be used to introduce many topics or even enhance lessons on these topics. Topics could include Duke Ellington, Billy StrayhornTchaikovsky, different music genres, general music appreciation, jazz, geography, new vocabulary, musical instruments,

The audio CD was awesome too and I think children would enjoy that. It would be fun to hear children talk about what they think the music is saying. One of my favorite activities when I was in elementary school was to use my imagination and write stories to go along with the music.

I would give this book a 5 out of 5.

Pat Hensley
Greenville, SC

Heather Hill said...

"Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite" book and audio CD is a true treasure. This story will introduce many students to Duke Ellington and the Nutcracker for the first time. Though I knew of both, I had never heard about Duke Ellington's project. After reading the story, I listened to the music. The music helped me get what the book was talking about. A really fun way to use the book would be to listen to the Nutcracker Suite so that the students are familiar. Then read this book and listen to this music and discuss the differences. Take a class vote on which version each student likes better. That would be a perfect "Winter Holidays" activity to work in.

I love, love, love this book and can't wait to play the music for my holiday season celebration this year.

I give this book/CD a 5 out of 5.

Heather Hill
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Lemon the Duck said...

What a jazzy combo! I can picture a music teacher having a ball with this book and CD.
It’s a great "behind the scenes", historical rendition of Ellington and Stray's musical collaboration and the CD brings it all to life.
I was most amazed at the two's musical collaboration...long distance...in the 60's! This happened waaaay before the age of computers. What a pair they made.
The illustrations' sense of movement and color bring the words to life. The author's note at the back provide insight to her research and thoughts while writing.
Background knowledge is needed for this story. I would recommend it for upper elementary and beyond. However, the CD itself is just right for any age. My class can't get enough of it!
I rate this Book/CD combo a 5 out of 5 for upper elementary.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School

Anonymous said...

I was thrilled when I started to read my review copy of this book. It is accessible to young readers, employs an authentic voice that is funny as well as firm. It is an enjoyable story that sings of the personalities involved in the creative process of creating an album. A delight to read and probably lovely to use in a story-time with the cd playing in the background.

Linda said...

I shared this book with our music teacher and she wanted to buy it...immediately...Hence, she has my copy. It is a fantstic book with a CD that gives a great perspective about the life of Ellington.

Food Freak Frank said...

The nutcracker suite is pretty awesome in Ellington's style. I think the original composer (I don't want to butcher his name) would be very proud. The video was awesome, thanks for putting it up.