Chapter Books That ROCK: Three Music-Themed Titles for Summer Reading and Beyond

Three titles with music-themes perfect for booktalking, displays, and programs.

Is your library rocking out this summer with a music-themed Summer Reading Program? Here are some chapter books that rock—literally and figuratively. They're perfect for booktalking and including in programs or displays this summer—and beyond.

Clayton Byrd Goes Undergroundby Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2017).

Clayton Byrd loves playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather and his grandfather's band, the Bluesmen, and he can’t wait for the day his grandfather will wave him in for a 12-bar solo. Clayton’s mom is NOT a fan of the blues though,, and when Clayton’s grandfather passes away, his mom begins an assault on all the music memorabilia left behind. Clayton starts having trouble in school and his mom takes away his blues harp, his last connection to his grandfather, so Clayton decides to take matters into his own hands. He runs away from school and heads towards Washington Square Park where he hopes the Bluesmen will allow him to join the group and tour with them. But the journey is not as easy as Clayton imagined.

This latest novel by Newbery Honor-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia speaks to the power of music to connect people. It's a great tie-in for a blues-themed program or a book discussion. As I reread this book to prep for this column, I was struck by the similarities between this and the movie Coco. Both feature boys who love music even when their families forbid it. In both works, music can be both a painful reminder and a way to connect to family and culture. For kids who got the feels from Coco and liked it, they’ll have much to identify with in this book that can be a hook for them.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Check out Rita Williams-Garcia reading from the first chapter in this booktrailer.

Tanya LeJuene has a post on the Kodaly Corner music teaching blog about how to introduce the 12-bar blues. Her post includes suggested songs to listen to with students and ideas for writing blues lyrics as a group, which would be perfect starters for a blues music program or lesson. 

Grace Enriquez reviews this book on the Classroom Bookshelf blog and shares teaching ideas and discussion questions.

PBS.org offers extensive lesson plans on various aspects of blues music that touch on social studies, language arts, and music standards. 

Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girlby Debbi Michiko Florence (Farrar, 2018).

The school talent show is coming up and Jasmine is super excited to participate. Jasmine has lots of talents—climbing trees, making collages, pounding mochi—but none of them are really things you can perform. Her mom comes to the rescue with the idea that Jasmine learn taiko, Japanese drumming, like her mom did when she was younger. Jasmine LOVES taiko immediately... but will she be good enough in time for the talent show?

This book reinforces the idea that you get good at a skill by practicing and working hard and that the most important thing is to have fun. Kids who are learning skills like playing a musical instrument or participating in sports will recognize Jasmine’s drive and cheer her on, even when her performance is not perfect. This early chapter book is part of a series, so readers who enjoy reading about Jasmine should check out the rest of the books.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

The book includes instructions for making a hachi-maki, the headband that taiko performers wear to keep the sweat out of their eyes.

Taiko drumming is a traditional art in Japan. This video from CBS Sunday Morning explains a little more about it and shows different styles of drumming from the island of Sado in Japan. 

Kids Web Japan, a website run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has a section on introducing taiko drumming to children and includes photos of children playing taiko. 

Take a look at this video which shows how taiko drums are made. You probably can’t make a real taiko drum at the library, but you could experiment with rhythms, using rhythm sticks or even plastic cups.

Kaplan provides 11 ways to use rhythm sticks, any of which could be adapted to fit into a library program on rhythm or drumming.

The Last Holiday Concertby Andrew Clements (S. & S., 2004).

Okay, I know it’s the wrong time of year to be thinking of holiday concerts, but the themes in this book about children taking charge of their education and working together to try to save their music program will resonate any time of year. Sixth grader Hart Evans is the most popular boy in school and he finds life pretty easy… except for the bane of his existence: sixth grade chorus. When their chorus teacher Mr. Meinert is laid off halfway through the school year due to budget cuts, Mr. Meinert decides that he’s given enough of himself to this school. If the sixth graders don’t want to take chorus seriously, they can be in charge of their own holiday concert. And Hart Evans is elected to be in charge. He has no great musical knowledge, but the thought that Mr. Meinert is waiting for him to fail is enough to set a fire under him. The last holiday concert will be the best holiday concert their school has ever seen. As long as they can pull it together.

This tale of students banding together is told with Clements’s signature humor and warmth. Unfortunately, teachers being laid off and arts programs getting cut are scenarios with which our students are all too familiar.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Hart Evans has complete control over what songs and acts they include in the holiday concert, which leads to some pretty wacky stuff being considered. Ask students to write about what they would include if they had complete control over their school’s performance.

What kind of instruments could perform in your concert? Explore the musical instruments of the orchestra by sharing the picture book The Remarkable Farkle McBride by Jon Lithgow (S. & S., 2000). Then check out the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids’ website to learn more about the various instruments.  Or check out this video from the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Youth Orchestra introducing kids to the orchestra and different instruments. 

The British website Nationwide Education provides math lesson plans for a project in which students plan their own rock concert, working with budgets and spatial reasoning. 

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