Jitterbug Jam

posted in: Alexis Deacon, Barbara Jean Hicks | 8

I know that several of you who read Playing by the book also write book reviews. What’s the process you go through for this? Do you draft your reviews? Do you check out what other’s have written about the book in question?

And, dear readers, whether your write reviews or not, what is it that you look for in a review? Do you read book reviews elsewhere e.g. in magazines?

When we find a book we love and I want to review here, I tend to sit on it for quite a few days. If it’s a book I really love, often the review takes even longer to write – In fact, library fines are generally one way for me to tell which books are the real gems! Finding the words that a great book deserves can be quite a challenge for me and today’s book has been a case in point.

I’ve just sat down with a coffee and re-read (on my own, with some peace and quiet) Jitterbug Jam by Barbara Jean Hicks and Alexis Deacon. The first few phrases I jotted down after closing the covers were:

  • Literary flair
  • Captivating, original illustrations
  • Warms my heart

  • Jitterbug Jam is a wonderful story about finding friendship despite differences and fear. A young monster cannot sleep at night because there’s a boy hiding under his bed.

    Even Godzilla, who everyone knows
    is the bravest monster ever,
    would be scared of a boy
    with pink skin
    and orange fur on his head
    where his horns by right should be,
    and eyes that awful colour the sky is
    when you wake up in the middle of the day
    and can’t see, it’s so bright out.

    What the young monster learns in the course of the story is that the way to overcome his fear is to reach out and take the risk of (quite literally) extending a hand in friendship. The gamble pays off, and the young monster realises that he and the boy are more alike than not.

    I lie awake a long time after,
    thinking about that boy,
    how he has a brother
    and plays Hide ‘n’ Seek
    and says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
    just like Mama taught me.

    And I think about how that boy must have a ma of his own,
    and maybe a grampa like Boo-Dad
    who tells him never, ever to
    look at a monster’s toothy grin,
    or he’s like to turn
    to fluff and dust for ever.


    The story is told in the first person, with a distinctive, unusual voice (I can hear the words with what I’d call a southern US drawl), and whilst this might make the text more of a challenge for a kid to read to themselves, it lends the story very well to being read out loud. The illustrations don’t remind me of any other’s I’ve seen before – and by this I want to say that they really are something fresh, different, engaging. They are full of detail that you’ll want to return to and will give you plenty to talk about with your kids.

    Despite several re-draughts of this review, I’m still not satisfied. I can imagine that not everyone will fall for this book – both text and illustration are more challenging than you’ll typically find in a picture book. Whilst I was lulling J to sleep last night the thought entered my head that Jitterbug Jam tastes a bit like olives – some people adore them, whilst others would say they were an acquired taste.

    And what about my taste buds? Well, I think this is a quite exceptional book. Every time I’ve read it, with the girls or on my own, it has haunted me for sometime afterwards. I really hope you’ll now go and find a copy to enjoy…


    The book takes its title from one of the foods the monsters eat, indeed the young monster seals his friendship with the boy under his bed by offering him a slice of bread and jitterbug jam. Thus, we decided to make our own jitterbug jam to go with our homemade bread. We followed the marmalade recipe in Pam Corbin’s Preserves – a book I’d wholeheartedly recommend if you wanted to try making your own jam, pickle or other preserves (every recipe we’ve tried so far has been a great success).


    Whilst the marmalade was stewing the kitchen windows steamed up and so the girls enjoyed taking the opportunity to draw on the windows with their fingers:


    We then had a little printing session to create labels for the jars and some more artwork for the walls (and floors….):


    And now we’re having Jitterbug Jam for breakfast everyday. Yum Yum.


    Jitterbug Jam: *** (3 stars)

    Today it’s been easy to find lots of great music to go with this quirky, adorable, surprising story. I do hope you’ll get up and dance to one or more of these:

  • Jitterbug boy by Tom Waits
  • Jitterbug blues by Muddy Waters
  • Public Jitterbug No. 1 by The Cats and the Fiddle
  • Clarinet Marmaladeby Bix Beiderbecke

  • Some Jitterbug / Monster links you might enjoy include:

  • Jitterbug – “a platform for musicians from around the world to distribute their craft and to provide parents and kids a safe place to discover new music without resorting to surfing the mass music and video sites.” – a bit like YouTube dedicated to kids’ music.
  • Make your own monsters based on your kids’ drawings – a great tutorial from Little Birdie Secrets
  • An easy stuffed monster that requires no sewing from No Time for Flash Cards
  • Teaching ideas using Jitterbug Jam from The Booktrust

  • (What are you still here? Aren’t you dancing to the Jitterbug Jam?!… oh, you want to share your review writing tips with me ….Great! – Please do!)

    8 Responses

    1. Sheela

      Love the way you put so much thought into every thing… I was nodding along about book reviews – so many books just pass us by and I end up only writing about a fraction of the ones that really impressed us in some way (especially the children)…

      Oh, and another thing we have in common: home-canning 🙂 Putting food by is the simplest of pleasures am glad to pass on to my kids.

      It is very inspiring to see the labels being made – using print-making technique. How neat is that?!

    2. Carrie, Reading My Library

      This is an awesome post. I love hearing your perspective as you approach a book to review. Quite clearly you put a lot of time and effort into thoroughly enjoying the books you are reading which I think is just fantastic! You inspire me and I love your site!

    3. Kim

      Jitterbug Jam sounds great!
      As far as reviews go, I receive publisher catalogs in the mail or in my inbox every spring and fall. I peruse the covers and descriptions. I request the books that most interest me. I don’t usually read other people’s reviews before I write my review, because I don’t want to be swayed by what someone else thought. Since I’m a writer too, and know what a stinging review feels like, I will not review a book that I didn’t enjoy.

    4. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Kristine – You already know you made my week! We’re back home now and J is still poorly, but the sun is shining on the snow and things are looking up!

      Sheela – Goodness me! You have a second brilliant blog?! Wow… Thanks for letting me know. I’m off now to try a new recipe I discovered during the week for a chickpea and kale curry (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/13/pulses-recipes-hugh-fearnley-whittingstall)

      Carrie – Thanks for the encouraging comments 🙂

      Kim – I’m with you on not reading other people’s reviews I have to say. And yes, I try to avoid writing posts where there’s a book I really disliked. Sometimes it happens because the play the book has inspired has been so much fun, but generally I’d rather spread good vibes than bad.

    5. Lisa Yannucci from Mama Lisa's World

      Hi Zoe,

      Great post! It’s wonderful how you incorporated photos, recipes and music into your book review to make it come alive! A real sensory experience.

      I mainly write reviews about books that my children love, about multicultural topics or books made into movies (often the classics). Mine, are generally quick impressions of the book and why I recommend them.

      Can’t wait to read more of your reviews!

      Mama Lisa

    6. sally apokedak

      What a wonderful review! Yikes, you put some time and thought into this and it makes me want to buy the book right now. I figure if someone as creative and as given to excellence as your blog tells me you are liked the book, it must be good.

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