Author: Laban Carrick Hill
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Themes: African American History, Music, Hip Hop
Age Range: 2nd-5th Grade
Summary: from Goodreads
Before there was hip hop, there was DJ Kool Herc.
On a hot day at the end of summer in 1973 Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party at a park in the South Bronx. Her brother, Clive Campbell, spun the records. He had a new way of playing the music to make the breaks—the musical interludes between verses—longer for dancing. He called himself DJ Kool Herc and this is When the Beat Was Born. From his childhood in Jamaica to his youth in the Bronx, here's how Kool Herc came to be a DJ, how kids in gangs stopped fighting in order to breakdance, and how the music he invented went on to define a culture and transform the world.
One of the things that my fellow teachers and I lament about is the lack of quality books about people of color to use with our students. While some children's publishers are making strides in offering more titles with protagonists of color, but there are still not nearly enough. As someone who works with a student population that is majority African American, I often find myself spending hours online trying to find quality books that will allow my students to see themselves in the writing.
So imagine my delight at finding this picture book while I was preparing for a parent workshop in what's new in children's literature. When the Beat was Born is the story of one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, Clive Campbell. He brought a Jamaican style of dubbing music to his New York neighborhood, spinning records at parties and creating longer "breaks" in the music by using multiple turntables for dancers (also the origin of the term "break dancing"). The books shows how Clive, known as DJ Kool Herc, was connected to the other founders of hip-hop and rap through the New York music scene.
While this book is technically historical non-fiction, unlike many books about African American history it takes place after the civil rights era. Considering the huge impact that hip-hop and rap have had on pop culture in our country, students should be able to understand and appreciate the story because they will have direct experience with the topic in a way they might not when reading about Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks. Since it is a children's book, there is very little in the way of social critique of hip-hop and the some of the negative issues surrounding it, but as an introduction to modern musical history that is relevant to their lives and experiences, this book does the trick.