Book Review: When the Beat Was Born

Book Review: When the Beat Was Born

When I began teaching preschool so many years ago, the words “multicultural classroom” were unheard of.  I don’t know if this was unique to the school I was working in, or if this was a result of being in Texas where progress can sometimes be slow. Most likely the absence of multiculturalism was that society, on the whole, did not understand or was just not aware of how important it is for children of color to be represented in media. I know, even as a woman of color, that I did not give much thought to this. I think I had just accepted the whiteness of my world.

By the mid-1990’s the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was firmly established as the go-to authority on how to create quality preschool classrooms. It seemed like preschools everywhere were going through the process of NAEYC accreditation. One of the requirements for accreditation was creating a multicultural classroom.  It seems so silly to think of now, but the fact that you could so easily expose children to other races, cultures, and ethnicities was a real awakening for me. Of course, I know that books and toys are not as good as actually having real life personal experiences, but it’s a really good place to start. Even though I have been out of the classroom for years, I am still really interested in what types of things are available to kids that may help them to see the world a little differently; a little more completely.

We do a lot of reading in our home, and I frequently try to find books that tell stories of all kinds of people. My daughter loves history so we end up reading a lot of biographies and non-fiction, and even though she has shunned picture books because she is “too old” for them, I still manage to sneak in a fair amount. Since we are both pretty opinionated, I thought I may as well use this blog to share some book reviews. I hope you are able to find things to add to your own library, and if you have titles to suggest, please do so in the comments.


When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

As the title implies, this book tells the story of DJ Kool Herc. It begins with his life as a small boy in Jamaica, where he idolized DJ King George and wanted nothing more than to become a DJ himself. We learn of his move to New York City, how he earned his nickname, and most of all, how he changed the Bronx with his famous street parties.

This book will definitely go on my recommended list. While there were moments where I felt like the story didn’t quite flow well,  it still manages to be engaging. The illustrations work very well, even though the illustrator relies heavily on a handful of muted colors. I am most impressed that the author was able to portray a positive image of life in the Bronx at that time period, in contrast to what is typically heard. (On that note, there is mention of street gangs so if you don’t want have that conversation with your kids, then you might want to pass on this book for now.) I particularly enjoyed reading the author’s note at the end of the book, where a timeline of hip hop is included.

As for the girl, she liked it and said she may want to read it again, except for it being a picture book.  When we read about Kool Herc’s “monster sound system” she said, “And you think I play MY music loud?!?!” I am certain she will use this against me the next time I tell her to lower the volume.




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