Trombone Shorty (Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Trombone Shorty, an autobiographical picture book written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a fun and fascinating tale that celebrates music and the people who love it.

“Where Y’at?” That’s how people in New Orleans greet each other, a town as friendly and musical as there ever was. And in the neighborhood of Tremé, there once lived a little boy named Troy, who loved music so much that he would play it without an instrument. He would play along with his older brother’s band and with the bands that played in the Mardi Gras parades. One day, Troy finds a trombone, beat up, but still having music to give. Troy carries the heavy instrument wherever he goes, teaching himself to play and dreaming of making “music gumbo”, a music that mixes together all the styles and feelings he adores. His brother encourages him, bestowing him with the nickname “Trombone Shorty” on account on of the instrument’s size compared to his. He plays without fear, marching with the parades as a small boy, and even being invited onstage for an impromptu performance with Bo Diddley. Now Troy is successful musician, playing around the world with his band – but he always returns to New Orleans, finding and encouraging young musicians as his brother once did for him.

Lovely! Mixing together elements of a musical biography and a love letter to New Orleans, Andrews tells his tale with verve and excitement, writing passionately about his home and music in a way that inspires infectious joy (the author’s photos in the back are especially adorable). Collier’s mixed-media art is as spectacular as ever, seamlessly mixing in photography with illustration to create spreads that sing with the spirit and music of the text. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. A must-read for any young music lover, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Black Girl Magic: A Poem (Mahogany L. Browne & Jess X. Snow)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Black Girl Magic: A Poem, written by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Jess X. Snow, a moving tribute to struggles, inner strength, and triumphant spirit of black girls and women.

These are the rules: Don’t wear red lipstick. Don’t wear high heels. Don’t smile in public. Don’t share your opinion. Don’t HAVE an opinion. Carry weaves, families, households, burdens, but never your own dreams or aspirations. These are the rules by which black girls and women are expected to live their lives – but these rules were made to be broken. Follow the example of fierce, intelligent, talented women that came before, and carve your own path. Never let anyone tell you that you are not worthy enough to have what you deserve. You are growing more into a beautiful black woman every day, and you already have within you the most precious of intangibles – Black Girl Magic.

Absolutely gorgeous. The words of Browne’s powerful poem and Snow’s raw, emotional art blend together seamlessly to give an honest, uplifting, and encouraging examination of black girl- and womanhood. The language of the poem is frank, covering both the societal oppression of black women as well as a call to break expectations and limitations. The black, white, red woodcut-inspired art is both intimate and broad, creating a sense of individuality as well as community. The length is great, and JJ and I both enjoyed it, but it’s more than all that. This is a book that should be read to and by little black girls of every age to remind that that the world may be ugly, but they are beautiful, they are worthy, and they are limitless. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Ellington Was Not A Street (Ntozake Shange)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ellington Was Not A Street, written by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a beautiful look through a child’s eyes at the men who make history in the time before they do, when they are simply men.

Using flowing free verse without punctuation or capitalization, the spare text of Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo” accompanies Nelson’s detailed paintings to tell a narrative. It begins with a shot of “Ellington Street” in an unnamed city, with the text immediately reminding the reader that “it hasnt always been this way/ ellington was not a street”. From there, it tells the story of a little girl welcoming her father at the door and watching as a group of black luminaries (DuBois, Robeson, Gillespie, Nkrumah, etc.) gathers in her home to meet, dine, and throw parties with the girl’s family.

Based on the author’s childhood home – where several great black musicians and leaders would often gather when she was a child – this is a fantastic book on several levels. With an appendix that highlights each man’s impact and rich, lifelike art that brings their conversations to life, it serves as a wonderful way to introduce these historic black figures to young readers, especially in an age when many of them are remembered only for their last names on street signs, awards or plaques. It also reminds children that these great heroes of music and civil rights were also simply men with families, friends, and children. It both highlights and humanizes them, making them all the more fascinating to learn about. The art is stunning, with a warm and inviting quality that draws you into the home the story is based around. The length is great, and JJ and I both enjoyed it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut (Derrick Barnes)

Hello, friends! As we’ve mentioned, we like to take time in February to highlight stories that celebrate black luminaries, history, and culture, so where better to start than this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for writing! Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, is a stylish and empowering book that pays homage to black boys and men, and the unique kingdom of the barbershop.

There is no place for a young man of color like the barbershop, a place of majesty and wonder where true works of art are created. It’s where a black boy can go and be treated like royalty, draped in robes and given a cut and/or style that makes him feel his best self. He can look around to see men – and women – who look like himself being fitted with their own fresh styles: flawless fades, a lion’s mane of locs, a shining wave, a razor sharp part, and the vitally perfect line. Each patron leaves looking and feeling regal, ready to take on the world with their power, grace, intelligence and soul, and the young man is no different. For each black boy has within him a king, and “the shop” is where he is crowned.

Utterly fabulous. As we’ve discussed on our blog, representation in kidlit is still extremely lacking for people of color. So to see a book like Crown is revelatory: from the first page, it bursts with unapologetic pride, each page singing with black excellence and effortless cool. The illustrations are vibrant, colorful, and full of the style the story evokes. The text is rhythmic and energetic, with a perfect flow and a liberating dynamic. It’s a story that both celebrates black hair and style while also assuring boys of color that their hair is a mere reflection of the limitless capability and potential they possess within. The length is great, and JJ and I adored it. A modern classic, and it’s absolutely Baby Bookworm approved!

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson)

Hello, everyone! It’s Friday again, so we’re continuing our Black History Month book series with The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, the story of the National Memorial African Bookstore as told through the eyes of Lewis Michaux, Jr.

Lewis’s dad runs a bookstore in Harlem, over which hangs a sign that reads “House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda.” Lewis tells the story of his father, Lewis Sr., and his “book itch,” i.e. his passion for books and the impact they can make on the world. From Lewis Sr.’s early days of peddling books from a cart, to being turned down for bank loans for his store (being told “black folk don’t read” as the reason), to his self-financed store becoming a hub of knowledge, culture, and civil rights activism.

This is an incredible book. Now, right out the gate, I would give a content warning: this book covers the assassination of Malcolm X (a close friend of Lewis Sr.), and it’s both jarring and sorrowful (as the subject should be). But if you feel okay with your littles reading it, this book is an absolute must-read. It focuses on civil rights, not only historically but as a basic human entitlement, the powers of literature, education, free thought, access to information, and the importance of community, all while telling the story of a remarkable man who believed that knowledge was the right and obligation of every man, woman and child, regardless of color, creed, or status. Gorgeous art compliments an inspiring story, the length is manageable for baby bookworms, and JJ loved it. This one will be making its way into our library, and we can’t recommend it enough. Baby Bookworm approved!