Audience Grows for Carlon’s Books

Olivia Berler

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Oftentimes, kids are jokingly told by adults that they have “a big imagination.” However, little do they know, having that quality is anything but childish. A passion for storytelling and the mental capacity for endless creative ideas and stories can get you a long way, no matter your age. Mick Carlon, author and 7th grade English teacher at Barnstable Intermediate school, is the living depiction of that.
Carlon was always an avid reader and writer, and the possibility of one day writing a book was always in the back of his mind. He had frequently written journalistic pieces for smaller newspapers and magazines, but the thought of writing a whole novel seemed like a grand stretch. To many, being a teacher at the same time as being an author just wouldn’t end well. However, Carlon’s love for teaching and writing ended up giving him a gift like no other.
“In 2009 I had the idea of combing my deep knowledge of jazz musicians with young fictional characters. After that, the novels almost wrote themselves,” Carlon said.
Carlon’s first novel, Riding on Duke’s Train, was published in 2011, and at the time, he was already a “veteran teacher” as well.
“Riding on Duke’s Train is the story of an orphan, Danny, who hitches a ride on a train one hot Georgia night in 1937. Turns out, the train belongs to Duke Ellington and his famous orchestra. The band basically adopts Danny, who ends up seeing the world and having many adventures with Duke and his musicians,” explained Carlon.
Riding on Duke’s Train skyrocketed in popularity within schools, now being in incorporated the curriculum of more than 100 high schools in the country. It is even going to be brought to life in an animated movie by Emmy Award winning director, Ken Kimmelman. A dream come true for any author is to see their beloved story and characters, who were once only a figment of their imagination, on the big screen.
Jazz music always had a special place in Carlon’s heart. His dad loved it, so one could frequently hear artists such as Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong playing over the everyday activities of Carlon’s childhood home.
“As a teen I began to read books about Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, and I discovered that they were treated like third-class citizens in their own country.”
As a young man, Carlon began to realize the bigotry that all of these incredible artists faced throughout their daily lives. However, he also knew that they rose above all of the hatred, and “fought bigotry with nonviolence and with the strength of their art.” By putting these artists in the center of his writing, Carlon knew he could draw readers in as well as inspire them with the strength, passion, and resilience depicted in his novels. Now, along with Riding on Duke’s Train, Carlon’s books, Travels With Louis, and, his most recent piece, Girl Singer, are currently in the curriculum of many high schools.
Carlon said that he originally intended for his books to appeal more to the younger population, ages 12 to 18 because he wanted to “inspire them to want to explore and listen to jazz,” which he described as “the greatest gift our nation has given to the world.However, Carlon is extremely grateful that his books actually ended up capturing an adult audience as well.
Overall, no matter the age of the reader, Carlon hopes his stories capture them and draw them in to the powerful messages and adventures in his books. Carlon wants his readers to “use the books as a springboard” and launch themselves into exploring jazz and its legendary artists.
A large aspect of Carlon’s books is racism. With primarily black main characters in his novels, discrimination is shown from the victim-perspective.
“My books are still relevant today because, tragically, bigotry still lives. I wish it didn’t— I wish that bigotry of all forms was dead and buried— but as long as it exists, my books will be relevant,” Carlon explained.
The prejudice towards the African American population is vividly depicted in Carlon’s novels. Specifically, in his book, Girl Singer, Carlon touches upon the brutality that black people faced and, unfortunately, still face.
“I try to make the point that American bigots being brutal to African American people were just as despicable as the Nazis. Hatred is hatred,” Carlon stated.