Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist

Book review by
Dawn Friedman, Common Sense Media
Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist Book Poster Image
Moving bio of jazz guitarist can be a little hard to follow.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Besides learning about the specifics of Django's life, the author's note details the times in which he grew up and performed.

Positive messages

Great lessons in beating the odds and not being stopped by a disability.

Positive role models & representations

Django's commitment to his music is inspirational. He doesn't let his disability stop him.

Violence & scariness

A fire severely burns Django.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, though the ending of this book is happy and Django is admirable for overcoming a disability, he suffers in a terrible fire and comes out of the flames with severe burns. Also, the plotline -- the trajectory of Django's life -- may be difficult for some kids to follow since the poetry-like narrative is not very straightforward.

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What's the story?

As inspirations go, Django Reinhardt is a good one. Born into a poor Gypsy family in Belgium a decade after the turn of the century, Django learned to play guitar at the family's fireside. When his parents moved to Paris a few years later, Django was able to help the family make money with his musical skill. Eventually he became one of the jazz greats playing at the smoky Paris nightclubs.Then one night, tragedy happens. Django's caravan goes up in flames and he was severely burned on his hand and leg. Would he ever play the guitar again?

Is it any good?

Written in an obscure, poetic narrative some kids may grow bored trying to figure out what's happening. They may also have trouble appreciating Django's accomplishments without some background. Fortunately parents have a crutch in the form of an author's note at the back, which details some of Django's background and historic circumstance. They can also get a heads up on the happy ending so they'll be able to reassure any kids upset by the tension of Django's injuries.

The gorgeous pictures are muted with scratchy charcoal lines and yellow tints lending them an air of historic import. They may also be better appreciated by older readers than the usual picture book audience.

Christensen's illustrations are gorgeous, conveying time past but still retaining a feeling of immediacy and intimacy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Django's music and head to the library or look online for recordings. 

  • This book won a Schneider Family Book Award for "books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience." Django didn't let burns to his fingers stop him from playing guitar. Can you think of other admirable people who have overcome great obstacles in their lives?

  • Kids might be interested in learning more about Romany (gypsy) culture. Why did Django live in a caravan? What kinds of hardships have the Romany people suffered throughout history?

  • Kids can research other jazz guitarists like Chet Atkins, Jeff Beck, George Benson and Lee Ritenour. How is Django's sound different? How is it the same?

  • What was Paris like when Django lived there? What other jazz musicians were a part of the music scene? Kids might want to make a poster advertising a dream show of the jazz greats who were performing in Paris at that time.

Book details

For kids who love biographies and artsy reads

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