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Archive for January 30th, 2015

 

ULTIMATE COVER

by Sam Juliano

The fact that Melba Doretta Liston was the first woman trombonist to hone her craft with the big bands in the 1940’s and beyond would in itself make a picture book on the subject an inherently inspiring chapter in musical history.  Starting up on the trombone at age seven qualifies Liston as a child prodigy, and her ascendance to the top level of her anointed profession sends out the message to young aspirants that when there is a will there is a way.  Little Melba and Her Big Trombone parallels the social indignities hoisted upon the African-American community that were examined exhaustively in Powell and Christian Robinson’s picture book on Josephine Baker (“whites only”)  Much like the protagonist of that spirited real-life story, Liston was born with her special propensity from an young age in music infested Kansas City.  The year she entered the world was 1926, this this swinging mid-America city was a hotbed for jazz, and the main fix for programmers.  From her earliest remembrances Melba was attuned to the sounds of blues, jazz and gospel (author Katheryn Russell-Brown sizes this up in more specific terms as “the plink of a guitar, the hummmm of a bass, the thrum-thrum of a drum, the ping-pang of a piano, the tremble of a sweet horn) and during the run of those formidable years notes and rhythms occupy her during the day and at night, when her sleeping hours were curtailed.  The old-fashioned box radio in the family room was another source for musical satiation, and the course-voiced piano virtuoso Fats Waller was a favorite.  Her player piano skills coaxed domestic dance session in her home.  Then, at age seven, she convinced her mom to buy her a trombone at a traveling music store, though the very idea of a little girl playing such a long and unwieldy instrument brought on laughter.  Melba, though, was an only child, and she granted her request. (more…)

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quest cover

by Sam Juliano

Aaron Becker was a frontrunner for last year’s Caldecott Medal, and ended up with one of the three honors that were awarded.  His wordless picture book Journey became an instant classic upon release and its success and exceeding artistry inspired Becker to commence with a trilogy, of which the ravishing Quest is the second chapter.  In picture book land, the wild anticipation for parts two and three size up as the equivalent of how cinematic Tolkien admirers waited on The Two Towers and The Return of the King, after the exquisite The Fellowship of the Ring.   To be sure, there is always something especially novel about the first installment of anything.  Some are obstinate in the way they assess the a multi-part work, always seeing the first as the establishing aesthetic.  Yet, most discerning film fans will cite  the final installment as the most all-encompassing and majestic, the one that will  ultimately be remembered over the long haul.  Children’s literature fans are a bit more skeptical, though in another sense they are overprotective of an adored book that set the bar high.  Still, Becker moved forward undaunted and his Quest is every bit as superlative as its predecessor.  Kirkus was right on the money when they opined:  “This book proves to be more exciting than its predecessor, emphasizing adventure over evocative metaphor.”  Becker certainly does broaden his canvass and deepens the conflicts while diversifying his exotic scope.  It is like comparing Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island with his Around the World in Eighty Days.  Bigger is not always better, but the same could be said of the reverse proposal.  Had a work of Quest’s artistic stature been released first, I do believe it would have wowed the committee and various award givers as resoundingly as Journey did.  But I am getting ahead – Quest is in the Caldecott hunt, and has been named by a number of critics and book lovers as one of their supreme favorites of 2014.  I’d venture to predict that the third part of the trilogy will also impress many. (more…)

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