Beboppin’ with "Bird & Diz"

With bursts of rhythm and flashes of color, Gary Golio and Ed Young’s stunning new picture book "Bird & Diz" captures the spirit and genius of bebop artists Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and their classic rendition of “Salt Peanuts.”


With bursts of rhythm and flashes of color, Gary Golio and Ed Young’s stunning new picture book Bird & Diz (Candlewick, March 2015; Gr 3 Up) captures the spirit and genius of bebop artists Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and their classic rendition of “Salt Peanuts.” Golio and Young’s is a virtuoso performance, mirroring that of the artists they so ably portray as they play off each other with their instruments. Against a background of rusty brown, Young’s pastel artwork featuring vibrant blues, pinks, orange, and green—and a minimum of black line—offers an impressionistic image of the musicians and the music as it skit-scats, swirls, and bounces between the artists, through a jazz club, and across the pages of this concertina. Invite lyrics, color, and sound into your classroom with this standards-aligned lesson for the book, designed for grades three and four, but easily adaptable for students through grade nine.—DG

Teaching note:

This guide is aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Reading (Literature), Speaking and Listen­ing, and Writing. As students answer each question, encourage them to support their claims with evidence from the text.

The lesson plan: Throughout Bird & Diz, Golio uses examples of figurative language to highlight Parker (Bird) and Gillespie’s (Diz) bebop music. Ask students to answer the questions below regarding the meaning of the figurative phrases and terms. (Reading Literature: Craft and Structure: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)

Allow students time to consider the author’s use of figurative language. Ask them what the phrase, “Diz’s cheeks swell up, like a frog with glasses” says about Gillespie. Can a person’s cheeks look like a frog’s? What imagery is the author conveying to readers? Why is it important? Use details from the text to support your answer.

Prompt students to explore the figurative language about Parker. The author notes, “Bird’s fingers fly across the brass. Is that smoke coming out of his horn?” Ask whether “smoke” actually comes out of an instrument. What is Golio trying to tell us about the saxaphonist’s playing? Look at Young’s illustration. How does it support this phrase? Support your answer with textual evidence.

Have students use a graphic organizer (see chart below) to locate additional figurative language about the musicians in the text. Allow them to explain their interpretation of each phrase (e.g., meaning) using clues from the story.

As they read or listen to the book, prompt kids to think about the vivid details about bebop music. Based on the descriptions of Parker and Gillespie’s instrumental playing, ask: What is bebop? How do the details in the story enhance readers’ understanding of bebop? Imagine the music; how does it sound? Use examples from the story to support your answer. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Music (audio) connection: Play a CD of the artists’ collaborative efforts in the classroom and suggest that students explore the music of these artists at home with an adult. (Relevant YouTube offerings include “Bloomdido,” “Leap Frog,” “Salt Peanuts.”) While listening to the tunes, students should record their observations and opinions. Have them share their notes with a partner and highlight what they believe is special or unique about the music. (Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)



Bird & Diz (Candlewick) By Gary Golio and Ed Young

Writing connection: After listening to several recordings, children can write a brief journal entry about bebop. The entry should include (a) a description of how the music sounds, (b) a discussion of how well the music (sound) matches the descriptions in the story, and (c) an opinion that highlights the reason people were so excited about bebop music. (Writing: Text Types and Purposes: W.CCR.1)

Encourage students to revisit the illustrations in the text and ask them to select their favorites. Ask, Why did you chose those images? What concept or details (e.g., characters, mood, and setting) from the story does it help you understand? Provide examples from the story in your response. If you were the teacher, how would you explain the importance of illustrations to students? (Reading Literature: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.7, R.L., 4.7)

Photography connection: Have students examine the photograph of the musicians in the book. Ask them: Do Parker and Gillespie look like the images that you created in your mind while you read or listened to the story? What is similar? What is different? What is the tone of the picture? Use examples to support your response.

Push children to think about the importance of collaboration in the classroom and throughout life. Ask: What does this story tell us about these artists’ collaboration? Why is this lesson important? Which examples from the story show that they worked well together? How do the musicians influence one another as they play (e.g., sequence of events)? What actions from the story support your response? (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.3, R.L., 4.3)


Music (video) connection: If possible, give students another opportunity to listen to the music of Parker and Gillespie. Have them go online to YouTube (in school or at home with an adult) and watch the “Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie—Hot House—1951” video. Encourage them to jot down what they notice as the musicians play together. Does this seem like a strong musical duo? Why? Give students time to discuss their observations with a partner. (Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Text-to-world connection: Have students elborate on these questions: Can you think of other musicians who have collaborated to create a new song or type of music? Why is it important to work with others instead of always working alone?

Ask students to read the book’s afterword. What new information did they learn about Parker and Gillespie? How are these details related to the information shared in the story? Based on the story and the afterword, why was bebop revolutionary? Support your response with evidence from both texts. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Text-to-text and writing connections: Instruct students to use online resources or related books to explore the life of Parker or Gillespie. Once the research is complete, students can write a report or an essay that includes (a) a clear introduction, (b) highlights of the major events in the musician’s childhood and early career, (c) explanation of the influence of his music, (d) cohesive conclusion, and (e) reference list of all sources. (Writing: Research to Build and Present Knowledge: W.CCR.8)

Extended music (audio) connection: Ask students to go to YouTube with an adult and listen to music that the artists composed individually. How is it similar to and different from the collaborative pieces that they produced? Create a 10-minute oral presentation about your listening experience that incorporates visual examples and samples of the music reviewed. (Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)

Dawn Jacobs Martin has spent her career supporting students with disabilities through various roles as a practitioner, researcher, special education director, and assistant professor. Daryl Grabarek is the editor of SLJ’s enewsletter Curriculum Connections, and a contributing editor to Book Reviews.

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