cover image Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band

Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band

Michael Mahin, illus. by Don Tate. Clarion, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-547-94201-8

Stalebread Charlie and his band were real figures in the early history of jazz. Homeless newsboys who played hot tunes on jug band–style instruments, they busked the streets of New Orleans’ legendary Storyville neighborhood in the 1890s. Mahin (Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters) explains the band’s roots in a loving, wry voice (the narrator is revealed to be the band’s feline mascot). Tired of surviving by stealing food and evading the police (the newsboys “liked to take their food to go. But sometimes they didn’t take it fast enough”), Stalebread convinces his skeptical peers that they can make money with music. After some false starts, the band takes off, and “the boys filled their hats with coins and their bellies with beignets.” The story uses onomatopoeias—“Sing-Taka-Taka,” “Scatta-Pat-Scat,” and “Skippity-Bippity-Skip”—to convey the band’s sound, and buoyant illustrations by Tate (Strong as Sandow) show a lively depiction of street life. But the book succeeds as a prompt for readers to learn more about these seminal young musicians. The book includes an author’s note and illustrator’s note, as well as instructions on how to make a kazoo. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Minju Chang, BookStop Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (July)