KidLit/Tunes: Swing Cafe by Carl Norac
Id and Super Ego are at war over Swing Cafe, a hardcover storybook/CD combination with superb, imaginative illustrations by Rebecca Dautremer. Id says, “I love the art, I love the music, and I don’t even have to read to hear the story.” Super Ego counters, “Yes. It is a lovely set, and swing music is intellectually stimulating, however, should you be playing songs with sex and drug references--like “Minnie the Moocher”--to innocent, young, impressionable children?” Meanwhile, Ego is laughing its butt off over the concept of “innocent, young, impressionable children; “who would that be--the unborn?,” Ego asks.
Carl Norac’s story tells the tale of Zaz--a Brazilian cricket who wants to sing in New York City. (Hey, if she can make it there, she can make it anywhere.) She stows away on a woman’s fruit-decorated hat and sails to New York City. All is not smooth sailing once she lands in Manhattan. However, this savvy little cricket ends up at the Swing Cafe and sings her heart out.
The accompanying disc features the story narrated by Brazilian artist Bebel Gilberto and Canadian actor David Francis. Gilberto’s Portuguese-accented English is perfect for voicing Zaz. Throughout the narration, fragments of old swing songs are played. Following the stories, seven of the songs are played in their entirety.
And what songs they are! Selections include Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” “Hot and Bothered,” and “Daybreak Express”; Slim and Slam doing the incredibly politically incorrect “Chinatown”; The Mills Brothers’ “Tiger Rag”; and, of course, Cab Calloway and “Minnie the Moocher.” As far as kids being influenced by the lyrics, it’s unlikely. However, exposing them to musical forms that are new (to them) can only be a good thing. Jazz aficionado parents will especially enjoy this book and CD.
The Swing Cafe set is available in hardcover book format with a music CD containing printable files of song lyrics and illustrations or as a digital download (MP3) that includes PDF files song lyrics and illustrations.