Title: Rent Party Jazz
Author: William Miller
Illustrator: Charlotte Riley-Webb
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Year: 2008 (paperback)
Concepts: rent, Great Depression, discrimination, jobs, services
Review: Sonny Comeaux, a child coming of age in New Orleans during the time of the Great Depression, held a paid job before school and weekends delivering coal to homes and businesses in the French Quarter. His earnings supplemented those of his mother, who worked in a fish canning factory. When hard times caused the factory to lay off its workers, she and Sonny despaired at the thought of missing their next rent payment and getting evicted from their home.
A chance encounter with Smilin’ Jack, a jazz musician who was playing around the country, led to the idea of throwing a rent party: a gathering of neighbors with jazz music, plenty of food, and a bucket to collect donations. Could this novel idea help to raise the money that Sonny and his mother so desperately needed?
This unique book introduces readers to rent parties, which originated in African American neighborhoods in the South and in Harlem, NY, to help families who struggled with high rents during difficult economic times. The parties also helped up-and-coming jazz musicians and artists to experiment with their music and develop a following. Rent Party Jazz gets top marks for its informative text and dramatic art work.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children