Ella Queen of Jazz

Ella Queen of Jazz

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Growing up I was exposed to loads of different styles of music. Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s I can remember the joy of Thursday evenings and Top of The Pops. When satellite TV landed I remember spending endless hours watching The Box – it only ever seemed to loop the same handful of music videos but we loved it.

I remember the tapes my parents would make for the long car journeys to France – they’d invariably be a mish mash of different genres and eras, something to keep my brother and I happy and something from my parent’s collection. We grew up on the likes of Paul Simon, Matt Monroe and many many more.

As my own musical tastes developed I fell in love with the music of the 1950s. My grandparents loved this music, and my grandad would often have the music of Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams playing when I went round to visit. When choosing the song for our first dance, Damian and I knew it would be a classic song. (We chose L.O.V.E by Nat King Cole).

When I was offered the chance to take a look at a new book, Ella Queen of Jazz, I knew it would be right up my street and a great excuse to introduce some of her music to the children. I really don’t have music playing enough during the day and I need to rectify that. The book, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks, tells the story of Ella Fitzgerald and her friendship with Marilyn Monroe. It’s extraordinary and not one I had heard before. I was able to ask Helen a few questions about the book and I hope they give you some insight into it:

ella queen of jazz review

So, Ella Queen of Jazz is a really great book with an important message for children; my oldest two were a bit baffled by the idea of someone not being allowed to do something based on the colour of their skin. What was the inspiration and catalyst for you to tell this particular story for a children’s audience?
Thank you. I was writing another idea/story and was stuck about a way for it to go forward. My agent told me about Ella and Marilyn and thought I could use it within this story, however after talking it through with my agent and the publishers we decided to focus on the Ella and Marilyn story as there was so much more to explore than just hiding it within another story. They deserved their own book.

After I read this with my children, I found some of Ella Fitzgerald’s songs for them to listen to – which is your favourite of  hers? I think mine is Cry me a River.
Ooo this is such a hard question to answer, but these are some of my favourites:
– Manhattan
– They All Laughed
– The Frim Fram Sauce
– If You Can’t Sing It, You’ll Have To Swing It
– Airmail Special
also look up ‘One Note samba’ on YouTube – it’s AMAZING!

How long did it take you to write and illustrate this book, and which was the most satisfying part to see in print; is there a page that you’re particularly proud of?
I think it was about 6 months in total, I had a deadline of having everything done and dusted, and checked off before September as I was going to North America for three and a half months so everything had to be done by then. It might be one of the quickest turnovers I have done, but it kept up the momentum. Although I did have a few doubts along the way, like with any book.

I really love the slip cover – it was fun and a little tricky to invent record covers and it was a great excuse to include a cat! I also like the page of Ella under the street lamp. And I love the gold foil on the cover that was a lovely touch.

ella queen of jazz review

I’m a big fan of 1950s music and love the classic artists like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra – are there any songs from the 1950s that hold a special place for you?
Hmmm I do like 1950’s music but I am rubbish at knowing what they are called or who they are by but having said this these two songs are good to have a little dance to… Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ and Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, ‘Ain’t Got No Home’.

I see you studied at the Manchester School of Art and that (according to your website!) you’re a cake eater. Where is the best place in Manchester to buy cake? (I quite like Teacup on Thomas Street)
Yes I did!
Teacup do HUGE slabs of cake, I would also say Fig & Sparrow (they sell trove bread, hmmm so good) or take a trip to Trove in Levenshulme, The Craft and Design Centre do lovely food, The Art of Tea in Didsbury, and last time I was back, there were two fancy cake shops that had opened in Didsbury too, so they might be worth checking out. There is a new bakery in the Northern Quarter that I hear good things about so might be worth looking up. And Common Bar used to do amazing donuts, I hope they still do as they were lovely. Also I really like having a teacake and a tea in the M&S cafe, as long as you get a window seat, that way you can sit and watch everyone rushing around – it’s quite calming. I am sure there are loads of other places I haven’t tried yet.

And, finally, do you have any more books in the pipeline?
Hopefully! I am working on something right now but I am not sure what I can reveal what that is at the moment. Plus I have a whole box of ideas to work on and keep me busy.

I rarely get the chance to ‘talk’ to authors so it’s lovely to get a bit of insight into Helen and her work, and of course her suggestions for places to eat cake in my home city! I’m planning to be in Levenshulme this weekend so may need to check out Trove!


Helen will be at the Cheltenham Jazz festival on 30th April – read more here.

ella queen of jazz review - a great story for children to understand issues of race



  1. 27th April 2017 / 07:24

    This book looks amazing! I love Ella Fitzgerald, might have to get my a copy. I might even let the kids read it too!

    • 27th April 2017 / 09:14

      It’s really good – the illustrations are fab plus it’s made me go back and rediscover her music 🙂

  2. PAT
    27th April 2017 / 11:58

    It looks like a loveky book and nice to see the intetview with the author.

  3. 27th April 2017 / 14:09

    those illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, definitely going to check out more of her work

  4. alisonrost
    27th April 2017 / 18:49

    What wonderful book .. all of the illustrations made me smile. It was also fun to read a little more about the author. My husband is a huge fan of jazz and I think I’ll be picking this one up for him!

  5. 27th April 2017 / 19:25

    Love the look of this book. I had no idea that Ella and Marilyn were friends.

  6. 27th April 2017 / 21:15

    This sounds like an amazing, inspirational book! I’d love to have a read

  7. 28th April 2017 / 14:54

    This sounds like a lovely book. I love the front design!

  8. 30th April 2017 / 16:52

    What a darling little book and I love Ella’s music.

  9. 1st May 2017 / 21:37

    I love Ella Fitzgerald, we had At Last at our wedding ceremony (and also Nat King Coles L.O.V.E). X

  10. 4th May 2017 / 09:57

    Ella Fitzgerald is amazing! I think I’d enjoy reading this book with the kids, as they’re really into music. And what a fantastic interview with Helen. She comes across as such a lovely person 🙂

    Louise x

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