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An American Childhood in Music

by Willie Nelson & Bobbie Nelson with Chris Barton ; illustrated by Kyung Eun Han

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-984851-83-3
Publisher: Doubleday

This story of how siblings Willie and Bobbie Nelson became lifelong musical partners focuses on how the two grew up together in Abbott, Texas.

Many fans know the story of the redheaded stranger Willie Nelson, the songwriter and performer who, at age 88, continues to perform and release music. But far fewer know the story of Nelson’s sister, Bobbie, a pianist and gifted singer who has played with her brother since the two were young children. “My first piano was one we made from cardboard, with a keyboard drawn in crayon,” Bobbie says in the alternating narration. “We loved music. Music loved us back. It provided for us and protected us and supported our family’s soul,” Willie says. The family’s rural life is portrayed as loving and idyllic as the two are raised by their grandparents until their grandfather dies. From there it’s a short, abrupt journey from playing in church and in front of their first crowds to playing to huge audiences, as shown in a collection of ticket stubs that bookend the storybook. This picture book feels disconnected from its putative child audience. By softening rough edges and by focusing only on the siblings’ childhood, the story pins itself to an old-fashioned past. The serviceable illustrations that seem intentionally faded and muted likewise don’t concede much to a modern kid audience. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

More a cute collectible for established fans than a children’s book that invites new curiosity.

(Picture book/memoir. 3-7)