Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

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By: Anna Harwell Celenza / Illustrated by: JoAnn E. Kitchel

Hear music in the rattlety bang of a train and
the drifting thoughts of memories . . .

With only five weeks to create a concerto that would define American music, George Gershwin, with genius and inspiration, composed his defining piece "Rhapsody in Blue." This distinctly moving and uniquely American piece was written in the spirit of the Jazz Age and with hardscrabble American ingenuity.

“I heard it as sort of a musical kaleidoscope of America . . .” —George Gershwin

From the klezmer wail of the clarinet to the jazz virtuosity of Gershwin’s piano, Anna Harwell Celenza honors the versatility of a great composer and his masterpiece with wit, charm, and expectation as the story behind the creation "Rhapsody in Blue" unfolds.

JoAnn Kitchel’s illustrations capture the mood and elegance of a time when America was experimenting with its own identity. The sense of excitement and creative fervor of the 1920s are alive in color and art-deco detail.

A CD recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” is included.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Anna Harwell Celenza, author

Anna Harwell Celenza received her Ph.D. in musicology from Duke University. She is on the faculty of Peabody Conservatory and Johns Hopkins University and is also a writer for “Performance Today” on NPR. Anna’s previous books for children include The Farewell Symphony, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Heroic Symphony, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She lives in Baltimore with her husband.

Read more about Anna.

JoAnn E. Kitchel, illustrator

JoAnn E. Kitchel has illustrated several children’s books over the past decade, including The Farewell Symphony, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Heroic Symphony, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children.

Read more about JoAnn.

Awards & Honors:

  • ABC Best Books for Children
  • AJL Sydney Taylor Notable Books for Young Readers
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
  • Storytelling World Award Honor Title

Editorial Reviews:

School Library Journal

The creation of Gershwin's 1924 masterpiece is the subject of this picture book. The story, rendered in watercolor-and-ink caricatures, opens in the legendary pool hall where George's brother Ira discovers a newspaper announcement for a concert at which his sibling's new jazz concerto is to be featured--only it hasn't been written yet. After the disbelief subsides and the conductor who placed the ad is confronted, the musical genius embarks on a journey in which doubt, inspiration, and frustration overlay frenzied periods of intense work. Celenza's tale, complete with invented dialogue, brings the composer to life. The text incorporates musical ideas to discover the "klezmer howl" of the opening clarinet, the blues, and the "love song for New York" in the main theme. An author's note contains Gershwin's words describing the rhythm of the train ride that freed his mental block, providing ideas for content, style, and direction. Kitchel's sensitivity to this source material is especially evident in her spread of multifaceted patterns and images, presented as cameos against a black background; they relate to the composer's concept of a "musical kaleidoscope of America." An accompanying CD features Gershwin himself (courtesy of a piano roll). Pair this with Robert Burleigh's Langston's Train Ride (Scholastic, 2004) to compare how a trip on an iron horse affected another American artist from the same period.


Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is one of the most American of all musical pieces, incorporating rhythms and sounds that mirror the stew that was New York City in the mid-1920s. In straightforward prose and sturdy art, this book relates its story. Gershwin didn't remember agreeing to participate in bandleader Paul Whitman's musical extravaganza "An Experiment in Modern Music" which was only weeks away. But at Whitman's urging, he decides to compose a concerto--then regrets it when the writing becomes a struggle. While on a train, however, the sounds he hears help him focus his thoughts, and he imagines the Rhapsody from beginning to end, later calling it "a musical kaleidoscope of America." Along with the story, this provides what so many children's books about music lack--a CD, and this wonderful addition enriches the book. On its own, the story may not interest children, but once they hear the stimulating music, the history of its origins will take on meaning. A great way to introduce a classic to a new generation.


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ISBN: 978-1-57091-556-7

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-037-9
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 6-9
Page count: 32
10 x 10

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