December 17, 2017

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Libba by Laura Veirs | SLJ Review

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redstarVEIRS, Laura. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. illus. by Tatyana Fazlalizdeh. 48p. bibliog. photos. Chronicle. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452148571.

K-Gr 3 –As a child, Elizabeth Cotten, or Libba, heard a song everywhere she went, reverberating through the clear North Carolina air around her home. Sneaking into her brother’s room one day, she began to play his guitar—upside down and backwards, since she was left-handed and the guitar was for right-handers. What came afterward is the beginning of a chapter in music history: “Freight Train,” a song that lives in the annals of U.S. folk music. Veirs details Cotten’s early determination to play guitar and the long deferment of that dream by daily life (“But even trains get derailed. Time swept Libba up”). Cotten would eventually be hired as a housekeeper for the Seeger family, her passion for song would be rekindled, and her childhood creation “Freight Train” would become a sensation. (“The Seegers believed in Libba…But it was Libba’s perseverance, her love of music, and her belief in herself that gave the world her voice.”) Veirs breaks up the narrative with poetic passages and with actual lyrics from Cotten’s songs. Fazlalizadeh’s earth-toned palette and softly blurred illustrations are imbued with warmth and contribute to the dreamy atmosphere. An extensive author’s note provides a more detailed account of Cotten’s life, the social and institutional barriers African Americans faced in the South, and the role the Seegers played in Cotten’s fame. VERDICT The message of never giving up on a dream, no matter the circumstances, will resonate deeply with readers—purchase for all picture book biography collections.–Amanda C. Buschmann, Carroll Elementary School, Houston

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

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