The Steel Pan Man of Harlem by Colin Bootman
This book is based on Robert Browning’s poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. It takes place in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem is overrun with rats, and even though the citizens of Harlem complain to the mayor, he does not know how to fix the problem. A mysterious man, the steel pan man, comes to Harlem and plays a song so exciting that people can’t help themselves – they just keep dancing. The steel pan man tells the mayor that he can play a song to make the rats go away. The mayor agrees to pay the man one million dollars if he chases all the rats away, but does not own up to his word and pay the steel pan man the money. The steel pan man is angry and casts a dancing spell on the mayor. The mayor ends up paying the steel pan man the money, but the dancing spell forces the mayor to dance his way out of the city.
I really like this book because the author and illustrator, Colin Bootman, is a local New Yorker. He lived in Trinidad until he was seven and then moved to the United States. He is particularly interested in the Harlem Renaissance because many people living in Harlem during that time period were immigrants from the Caribbean. Colin Bootman has written other books and I think he might be an interesting subject for an author study. Since Colin Bootman lives in Brooklyn, student may take a particular interest in learning more about him and his life.
I think this book could be used to introduce the concept of taking social action (the 5th level of Social Justice Education). The steel pan man recognizes a problem in the community and after addressing the mayor directly, takes action to fix the problem. He does so in a fantastical way – by playing a song that makes rats dance out of the city – but the concept of standing up as an individual to enact change is still present in a comprehensible way. Because it takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, this book could also tie into a community study of Harlem or a social studies unit on the Harlem Renaissance.