Play, Louis, Play!: The True Story of a Boy and His Horn by Muriel Harris Weinstein details Louis Armstrong’s childhood in a book that is great for younger tweens, approximately grades 3-5. The book details Louis Armstrong’s childhood and the hardships he encountered growing up very poor in New Orleans, his love of his family and of music and how his amazing career began.
Louis spent his earliest years living with his grandmother in a New Orleans neighborhood so rough it was called The Battlefield, and follows him through childhood until he left his family and headed to Chicago to pursue his love of music. It details how, despite numerous hardships, Louis never complained. He worked hard to support his family and that he was relentlessly optimistic despite being hungry. At 12 years old, Louis was arrested for firing a gun in the air on New Year’s Eve, and sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, out in the countryside, a combination orphanage and reform school. His time there was his first chance to study music.
The book is narrated by Louis’ first horn, which he was able to purchase with assistance from the Karnofskys, a Russian Jewish family who lived on the edge of the black neighborhood in New Orleans. The Karnofskys fed Louis and loaned him money to purchase the instrument that would become his voice. It includes interesting facts about him, including that, in honor of the Karnofskys’ kindness, Louis wore a Star of David necklace his entire life. Pen and ink drawings by Frank Morrison help bring the book to life and while some kids might balk at the book having pictures, they are not “babyish” and help bring the story to life.
My tween liked the book. She was intrigued by the approach at writing a southern drawl, and impressed at how many similes the author included. It goes nicely with lessons on using figurative language.
If gifting it for the holidays, give it with a Louis Armstrong CD. Or pair the book with tickets to a jazz concert. While it would be great to find one aimed just at kids, depending on your tween’s age and interest, he/she might love a more adult experience. Check out local venues. I’ve had good luck with the small college in my suburb, but many venues have programs suitable for kids. The Jazz Showcase in Chicago gears Sunday matinees to kids, with kids 12 and under admitted free. Or Chicagoans can also check out Jazzin’ at the Shedd for some fun at the aquarium. The Shedd Aquarium is also hosting Jingle Jazzin’ over the holidays.
You could also match the book with another fun experience related to Armstrong. Live in the DC area? Jazz at Lincoln Center has all kinds of great activities for kids. Close to or planning to spend time in New York City? Add a trip to the Louis Armstrong House Museum to your “must see” list. If you have a serious tween musician, a trip to the the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp in New Orleans would make an amazing gift. It accepts kids ages 10 and older.
In keeping with a holiday theme, the book very much gives the reader an appreciation of the creature comforts that we currently enjoy, including running water. Louis lived in poverty and was hungry for much of his childhood, and that suffering is made clear in the book. It would be a good one to read prior to collecting food for or volunteering at a food pantry, or other charitable work.
We received no compensation for this review.
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Tags: book, Christmas, coronet, gift, Hanukkah, jazz, jewish, karnofsky, lincoln center, louis armstrong, louis armstrong foundation, Muriel Harris Weinstein, music, New Orleans, new york, play louis play, Shedd Aquarium, star of david, trumpet, tween