BORN TO SWING

LIL HARDIN ARMSTRONG'S LIFE IN JAZZ

Unfortunately, this ode to an undeservedly overlooked legend does not hit all the right notes.

A biography of Lil Hardin Armstrong, who “was just born to swing,” one of the first female musicians to make it in the world of jazz.

Lil Hardin was born in Memphis, near Beale Street, “where the music never stopped.” Though her mother said blues was “Devil’s music,” Lil Hardin was allowed to play the family organ and at church, where she jazzed up the old church hymns. The Great Migration swept Lil Hardin and her mother up in its tide to Chicago, where a job playing piano in a music store led to gigs, even though a woman playing the piano in a jazz band was unheard of. As a fixture in Chicago’s jazz scene, she met Louis Armstrong, and the pair eventually married. Lil Hardin—whose reputation was cemented—used her fame to help boost Louis’, and after the couple parted ways, she enjoyed a successful career as a songwriter, musician, and bandleader. Rockliff relates the jazz pioneer’s story in Lil Hardin’s imagined and enthusiastic first person, her conversational address developing an appropriately big personality. Wood’s bright, naïve acrylics complement the narrative style, but they do not evoke the smooth, accomplished sounds that were Lil Hardin’s musical signature. Curiously, despite a closing photograph that evinces many different skin tones in Lil Hardin’s combo, characters are almost all portrayed as the same medium brown color.

Unfortunately, this ode to an undeservedly overlooked legend does not hit all the right notes. (biographical note, discography, timeline, bibliography, author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62979-555-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

BASKETBALL DREAMS

Blandly inspirational fare made to evoke equally shrink-wrapped responses.

An NBA star pays tribute to the influence of his grandfather.

In the same vein as his Long Shot (2009), illustrated by Frank Morrison, this latest from Paul prioritizes values and character: “My granddad Papa Chilly had dreams that came true,” he writes, “so maybe if I listen and watch him, / mine will too.” So it is that the wide-eyed Black child in the simply drawn illustrations rises early to get to the playground hoops before anyone else, watches his elder working hard and respecting others, hears him cheering along with the rest of the family from the stands during games, and recalls in a prose afterword that his grandfather wasn’t one to lecture but taught by example. Paul mentions in both the text and the backmatter that Papa Chilly was the first African American to own a service station in North Carolina (his presumed dream) but not that he was killed in a robbery, which has the effect of keeping the overall tone positive and the instructional content one-dimensional. Figures in the pictures are mostly dark-skinned. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Blandly inspirational fare made to evoke equally shrink-wrapped responses. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-81003-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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