Trombone Shorty

“Lots of kids have nicknames, but I want to tell you the story of how I got mine. Just like when you listen to your favorite song, let’s start at the beginning. Because this is a story about music.”

And so Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews welcomes his readers into the story of his early years. Trombone Shorty, written by Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, demonstrates how the path to greatness often begins when we are young. (My favorite part of the book is in the backmatter, where readers see an actual photograph of a very young Andrews playing his trombone on stage for Bo Diddley.)

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Instead of focusing on his accomplishments as a world-class musician, Andrews chose to tell the story of his youth and how he became a trombonist. This makes the story more relatable and I imagine many young people will be inspired to pick up a new instrument themselves.
  • Illustrator Bryan Collier’s collages are a perfect fit – the different shapes, textures, and colors reflect the essence of jazz itself.
  • Trombone Shorty is both an autobiography of a fabulous young musician and an homage to the vibrant jazz community in New Orleans. The reader feels as though Andrews couldn’t have become the musician he is without the influence of his surroundings, and now Andrews is giving back and carrying on the jazz tradition in New Orleans. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

I recommend Trombone Shorty for ages 4-10. It is perfect for introducing jazz music to a young audience. After readers have finished the story, I suggest finding some of Andrews’ recordings or videos to listen and see the trombonist he became.

Thunder Rose

Thunder Rose is a welcome addition to the tradition of American tall tales. Author Jerdine Nolen has created the larger-than-life Rose, who rolls lightning into a ball, twists iron, and tames stampeding steers.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • There are less tall tales featuring female protagonists; even fewer non-white females. Thunder Rose gives us a valiant hero to embrace from an underrepresented group.
  • Illustrator Kadir Nelson’s illustrations convey the great expanse of the western frontier. His choice of viewpoint is unique and interesting – the reader is often looking up at Thunder Rose, which adds to the greatness of her personality.
  • Nolen has masterfully written a tale that has the feel of an old folktale, but also feels fresh.

Just under two thousand words, Thunder Rose is quite long, even though it is a fully illustrated book. While younger children may still be captivated by the tale, I would recommend this book for ages 6-10. It would be a great addition to a group of stories including Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry.

Let the Children March

Let the Children March tells the story of the Children’s March that took place in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Under the direction of Dr. King, citizens gathered to construct a plan that would combat racially unjust Jim Crows laws. The trouble was that many adults feared they would lose their jobs if they participated in demonstrations. Their children volunteered to march in their place, and Let the Children March portrays their stories.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • This book is inspiring for young people. Our society often diminishes what kids can do, and this book shows them the power they have and how they can indeed make their voices heard.
  • Author Monica Clark-Robinson chose to write this story in the first-person perspective of one of the marchers, which makes the account feel that much closer.
  • As one would expect, Frank Morrison’s illustrations are truly gorgeous. I also appreciate the unique angles he uses to recreate scenes that were captured in photographs.

Let the Children March does a fabulous job of being educational without being didactic or bland. It reads like a story while shining a spotlight on our nation’s troubled history. I recommend this book for ages 6-10.

Uptown

Uptown, by Bryan Collier, is a glimpse into the life of a young Harlem boy. Readers experience the sights and sounds of his city and develop a strong sense of his neighborhood.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Collier’s collage art is a feast for the eyes. There is so much happening on each page – just like in the city.
  • Evocative phrases put the reader right down in the city. “Uptown is weekend shopping on 125th Street. The vibe is always jumping as people bounce to their own rhythms.”
  • As someone who has never lived in a large city, I enjoy touring Harlem with a guide who shares his love for his community on every page.

Uptown is a great read-aloud choice for ages 4-8.

New Kid

The ALA held their summer conference (virtually) earlier this week. While the award winners are announced at the winter conference, the winners give their acceptance speeches at the summer conference. Isn’t it nice the ALA gives the recipients time to prepare eloquent and thought-out statements? Maybe Hollywood should take note, but I digress…

This year, Jerry Craft was awarded both the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award for New Kid. The Newbery recognition is particularly significant, because it is the first graphic novel to win the most prestigious award in children’s literature. (Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl and Cece Bell’s El Deafo earned Newbery Honors.)

New Kid is a heartwarming story about a twelve-year-old boy who is a new student in an academically demanding private school. He also happens to be one of the few students of color. The story reflects his inner struggle to fit in with his peers while remaining true to his identity.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • New Kid shows a young Black boy living an ordinary life, with the ordinary ups and downs any twelve-year-old will understand. You can read why this is so important (and sadly still not a common occurrence in children’s books) in Craft’s moving acceptance speech.
  • Craft’s artistic style is expressive, fun, and full of life.
  • I love how middle grade graphic novels present important themes while still keeping the tone light. I think it makes difficult and complex topics more approachable for a younger audience.

New Kid is a great addition to any library. Kids as young as eight may enjoy reading it; I think it will be most relevant for kids ten and up.

Long Way Down

My first reaction after reading Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down was not favorable. I picked up the book soon after it received Newbery, Printz, and Coretta Scott King honors, and I was not prepared for such a raw story. I nearly discounted the book altogether because it differed so much from my misconceived notions of what I thought it would be.

And yet…

I still think of this book. It has stayed with me more than many others I have read. While there are lots reasons to read a book, I think it is easy to discount books that make us uncomfortable, and this book makes me uncomfortable. Having said that, I think it is also one of the best books I have ever read.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Jason Reynolds’ style. This was my first Reynolds’ read. His words cut to the heart of the matter in a beautiful and deceivingly simple way. My favorite poem was the short “And You Know”: “it’s weird to know/ a person you don’t know/ and at the same time/ not know/ a person you know,/ you know?”
  • The structure. In general, I love the novel-in-verse format, but Long Way Down has the added structure of descending the floors in an apartment building. The protagonist takes an elevator from his floor to the main level, and at each floor, a new person enters the elevator. Except the added person is really a ghost of someone who has been killed from an act of violence, and our protagonist is riding the elevator while he contemplates seeking revenge against his brother’s murderer. Incredible structure creates palpable tension.
  • The honesty. As I have alluded to, this is not a fluffy read, and I appreciate that Reynolds does not diminish the protagonist’s internal struggle.

Long Way Down is best for high schoolers. It could be a good choice for a reading group that is willing to have difficult but honest conversations.

The Undefeated

I try to read the medalists and honorees of the major ALA book awards every year, so you can be sure I took notice when The Undefeated earned recognition in the Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King award categories. Inspiring and beautiful, The Undefeated deserved its many wonderful accolades.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Kwame Alexander’s triumphant text. I’ve read several of Alexander’s books, and I have yet to encounter another author whose words pop off the page the way his do. He captures so much life in a few short lines per page.
  • Kadir Nelson’s luxurious illustrations. This is one of those books that you really must see in physical form to fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations. I was stunned by the difference between what I could see in a digital preview versus what I could experience through the physical page.
  • The universal appeal. The short text and illustrations make this book accessible to young audiences, but the biographical stories in the back matter are both engaging and educational for older children. This book isn’t afraid to confront difficult history, but it is done in such a way that it can pack a powerful punch for all ages, which is an incredible feat.

The Undefeated is probably best for ages 6 and up. I think it could initiate some wonderful conversations particularly for kids 8-10 years old.

The Oldest Student

I love reading picture book biographies of people I have never heard of. Especially if they are seemingly ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things. My kids and I recently enjoyed learning about the amazing Mary Walker, who not only lived to an incredibly old age, but learned to read when she was 116. Incredible. Author Rita L. Hubbard and illustrator Oge Mora have honored her story in The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.

Here are three things I like about this book:

  • Hubbard presents Mary Walker’s persistence in an honest but hopeful way. Readers learn of Mary’s hardships but also feel her joy when she finally achieves her great goal of learning to read.
  • Mora’s youthful and vibrant illustrations seem to mirror the energetic soul of a person who lives to 121 years of age.
  • Stories of persistence are great for kids, and I love how this book can relate to kids in a very tangible way, since many young children are learning to read themselves.

This book is great for all ages, but I think it will land especially well with six to ten year olds.

Supporting Black Authors and Illustrators

After taking a break from the blog for several months due to personal reasons, I look forward to posting about books again soon.

Like others around the country, I am doing my best to listen and learn from the black members of my community. For me, this education includes reading books that were created by black authors and illustrators.

For the rest of this year, I will only feature books by black authors and illustrators in my posts. I believe their voices must be heard. This doesn’t mean that I will stop highlighting their work when the year is finished. I have tried to be racially inclusive of books I feature here, and will continue to work towards this goal.

I believe reading promotes compassion and empathy. It helps us see another’s point of view. To understand their circumstances. To walk in their shoes. I look forward to reading books that help me do this, and I hope you will join me.

What Miss Mitchell Saw

I love the current trend of infusing lyrical storytelling into non-fiction picture books. In picture book biographies, it is also becoming more common to feature people that history has previously ignored.

What Miss Mitchell Saw, written by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, demonstrates all that is lovely in this golden age of children’s non-fiction. The poetic text is as lovely on the ears as the gorgeous illustrations are on the eyes. The story in and of itself is wonderful, and I consider it a bonus that my children and I could learn about real-life astronomer Maria Mitchell while enjoying a compelling story about a woman who bucked the conventions of her time.

I recommend this beautiful picture book for all ages, though I would suggest the target age is 6-10 years old. What Miss Mitchell Saw would make a lovely accompaniment to a history study (particularly during Women’s History Month) or a unit on astronomy.