Cindy: I have a 7th grade teacher talked into collaborating with me on a picture book biography unit this year. When the Beat Was Born: D.J. Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop (Roaring Brook 2013) will be a highly popular inclusion despite the the book’s younger target audience. Kool Herc was a Jamaican born (Clive Campbell) music fan who moved to the Bronx in the late 60s. When his father bought a new sound system Kool Herc and his sister threw a party in their housing project’s rec room and DJ Kool Herc was born. He would go on to develop his own style that is credited with being the genesis of the hip hop that we know today. He noticed that dancers got crazy during the “breaks” in the music between lyrics when the drum beat took center stage and so he added a second turn table to his set up and played the same record on each, extending the break from 10 seconds to minutes giving the dancers time to really get into the groove. He called the best dancers his b-boys and b-girls for break-boys and break-girls, a style that became known later as break dancers. His innovative work at the turn table led to many of today’s hip hop practices. Young music fans are going to love this peek at the little known history of their tunes–and maybe they’ll get a little history lesson on what a turn table is! I have one sitting out in my library with some of my vintage rock albums and even the 8th graders ask me to spin one at lunch. They stand and watch the LP go ’round and ’round, completely mesmerized at the magic.
In his author’s note, Laban Hill relates his experience and impressions of the Bronx and Harlem neighborhoods in 1980 that differed from the dangerous and violent reputations in the media. What he saw where teenagers engaged in music and dance that would have an influence on the culture. Reading this reminded me of hearing Chris Crutcher suggest that our high schools would be different if we gave out letter jackets for skateboarding talent and acknowledged the athleticism the sport required. The same could be said for break dancers.
Theodore Taylor III’s illustrations in a muted palette are a great accompaniment to the story. Changing perspectives from turn table close-ups to street scenes of break dancing help readers to feel the beat. I hope we see more picture books from this D. C. artist. Spin some classic James Brown (one of DJ Kool Herc’s favorites) while you share this one with young readers.
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.2 Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.
Students will read a picture-book biography, paying careful attention to the information presented in the illustrations. They will give an oral presentation about the subject of the biography and highlight how the illustrations helped clarify their understanding of the person and his/her struggles and achievements.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3c Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3d Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.
Students will read a picture-book biography and then will conduct research in print and online to find additional information about the subject of the biography, photographs, and video (if available). They will use this research to provide extra details as they write a narrative that highlights the struggles, achievements, and timeline of the person.