An upbeat introduction to the scrappy origins of a little-known bit of American musical history.

STALEBREAD CHARLIE AND THE RAZZY DAZZY SPASM BAND

Drawing from the little that’s known about Emile “Stalebread Charlie” Lacoume, Mahin presents a fictionalized story about the homeless New Orleanian boys who innovated “spasm band” music, considered one of jazz’s precursors.

In 1895, Stalebread and pal Warm Gravy, both white, live in Storyville, which “smelled like trash and looked like trouble.” The boys steal to eat, constantly dodging the coppers. Hearing a trio playing one night, Stalebread hatches an idea. “Gravy! We’ll start a band. We’ll never be hungry again!” With an old stovepipe to sing through and a pebble-filled can to shake, the boys debut their rhythms—to the neighborhood’s general disdain. “No one liked their music. Not even the alley cats.” A boy called Cajun (the band’s sole kid of color) joins up with his “comb-made kazoo.” Pennywhistler Monk is next, followed by kids on washboard, spoons, and cigar-box fiddle. Though more often chased off than cheered, the boys’ luck finally turns when they bravely improvise for patrons at Mac’s Restaurant and Saloon. Mahin’s jaunty narrative uses occasional rhyme, and onomatopoeic words scroll through in arcing display type. Illustrator Tate’s note mentions finding supporting research for his intentional visual diversity: Among the diverse denizens of Storyville, he depicts a black cop. The text ends abruptly, but Mahin’s note adds lively details.

An upbeat introduction to the scrappy origins of a little-known bit of American musical history. (craft activity) (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-547-94201-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A full-hearted valentine.

THIS IS A SCHOOL

A soaring panegyric to elementary school as a communal place to learn and grow.

“This is a kid,” Schu begins. “This is a kid in a class. This is a class in a hall….” If that class—possibly second graders, though they could be a year to either side of that—numbers only about a dozen in Jamison’s bright paintings, it makes up for that in diversity, with shiny faces of variously brown or olive complexion well outnumbering paler ones; one child using a wheelchair; and at least two who appear to be Asian. (The adult staff is likewise racially diverse.) The children are individualized in the art, but the author’s narrative is addressed more to an older set of readers as it runs almost entirely to collective nouns and abstract concepts: “We share. We help. / This is a community, growing.” Younger audiences will zero in on the pictures, which depict easily recognizable scenes of both individual and collective learning and play, with adults and classmates always on hand to help out or join in. Signs of conflict are unrealistically absent, but an occasional downcast look does add a bit of nuance to the general air of eager positivity on display. A sad face at an apartment window with a comment that “[s]ometimes something happens, and we can’t all be together” can be interpreted as an oblique reference to pandemic closings, but the central message here is that school is a physical space, not a virtual one, where learning and community happen. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A full-hearted valentine. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0458-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.

THE INVISIBLE BOY

This endearing picture book about a timid boy who longs to belong has an agenda but delivers its message with great sensitivity.

Brian wants to join in but is overlooked, even ostracized, by his classmates. Readers first see him alone on the front endpapers, drawing in chalk on the ground. The school scenarios are uncomfortably familiar: High-maintenance children get the teacher’s attention; team captains choose kickball players by popularity and athletic ability; chatter about birthday parties indicates they are not inclusive events. Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly; compared to the others and his surroundings, he appears in black and white. What saves Brian is his creativity. As he draws, Brian imagines amazing stories, including a poignant one about a superhero with the power to make friends. When a new boy takes some ribbing, it is Brian who leaves an illustrated note to make him feel better. The boy does not forget this gesture. It only takes one person noticing Brian for the others to see his talents have value; that he has something to contribute. Brian’s colors pop. In the closing endpapers, Brian’s classmates are spread around him on the ground, “wearing” his chalk-drawn wings and capes. Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children.

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-582-46450-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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