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What We’re Reading: When the Beat was Born

Post by Rebecca Honeycutt
Posted January 14, 2014 in Kids & Book News, NoveList Bookshelf, NoveList K-8 Plus

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When the Beat was Born

by Laban Carrick Hill

What is it about? 
When the Beat Was Born focuses on the early life of Clive Campbell, aka Kool Herc, the innovative DJ who jump-started hip hop in the 1970s and inspired generations of DJs, rappers, and break-dancers. From his childhood in Jamaica to the explosion of his dance parties in the Bronx, Herc's story unfolds through rhythm-infused writing and irresistible illustrations with touches of street-art style. 
Why I like it: 
Biographies for kids tend to be about the same stereotypical group of VIPs: political leaders, scientists, social reformers, and other famous "firsts."  It's rare to find a high quality, age-appropriate biography about a lesser-known cultural trailblazer, especially one like DJ Kool Herc, whose influence is still so evident in contemporary culture. 
Interesting tidbit:
Curious readers can turn to the author's note, timeline, and bibliography at the end of the book for more detailed information and suggestions for further reading about the history and culture of hip hop. Considering the current popularity of hip hop and rap, kids may be surprised to learn that it hasn't been around that long, and that it began as a grassroots youth movement. 
"I'd give this book to…"  
Though it's a picture book, When the Beat Was Born is a bit too long to appeal to younger kids. I'd give this one to older readers (ages 6-11) who like real stories with lots of visual and pop cultural appeal. It will also find a welcome audience among kids who are desperate for fresh material for biography assignments or Black History Month projects. And, with its bold pictures and engaging text, it's a great readaloud choice for teachers or librarians who work with older kids.
Memorable quote:
"Herc didn't just rock the block. He put the hip hip hop, hippity hop into the world's heartbeat."

Contributed by Rebecca Honeycutt, a bibliographer for NextReads. Before joining NoveList, she worked as a teen librarian in public libraries. She loves reading all kinds of books for kids and teens, but finds young adult fantasy series especially irresistible.