Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

By: Laura Veirs

Illustrator: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

This lyrical, lovely picture book tells the story of the determined, gifted, daring Elizabeth Cotten—one of the most celebrated American folk musicians of all time.

ISBN: 9781452148571

JLG Release: Feb 2018


Sensitive Areas: No sensitive areas

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Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Book List, The Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews*, Publishers Weekly*, School Library Journal*

School Library Journal

[STARRED REVIEW]
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 c
[STARRED REVIEW]
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

Horn Book

In this picture-book biography of folk musician Elizabeth Cotten (1893–1987), a straightforward narrative describes her modest upbringing in rural North Carolina, where “Libba” taught herself to play her brother’s right-handed guitar despite having no musical training and being herself left handed. No matter: “She turn In this picture-book biography of folk musician Elizabeth Cotten (1893–1987), a straightforward narrative describes her modest upbringing in rural North Carolina, where “Libba” taught herself to play her brother’s right-handed guitar despite having no musical training and being herself left handed. No matter: “She turned the guitar upside down and played it backwards. . . . Nobody else played that way, but it was the way that felt right to Libba.” The backwards fingerpicking would become her trademark, but not until much, much later, as in her teens “time swept Libba up, and she stopped playing guitar.” From there the book jumps to Cotten’s late adulthood when, as a grandmother, she’s serendipitously hired as a housekeeper by the Seegers (yes, those Seegers), who would rediscover her talent and help Cotten bring her music to the world. Fazlalizadeh’s art, rendered in graphite with feathery digital coloring, complements Veirs’s unpretentious prose exquisitely, and the interplay between the two is seamless. Despite having written what would become her most famous song, “Freight Train,” at age eleven, Cotten’s talent was sidetracked by her circumstances—she was an African American in the segregated South, a woman, and poor—until she was in her late fifties. That is, indeed, a “story worth telling” (as Veirs, herself a folk musician, puts it in her appended author’s note), and this biography should inspire young readers starting to pursue their own creative talents as well as the adults who share the book with them. Also appended with a list of works cited (websites, videos, interviews, recordings, liner notes). katrina hedeen

Book Details

ISBN

9781452148571

First Release

February 2018

Genre

Nonfic

Dewey Classification

Trim Size

8" x 10"

Page Count

48

Accelerated Reader

Level 3.5; Points: 0.5;

Scholastic Reading Counts

Level 0; Points: 0;

Lexile

Level 580L

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Chronicle

Potentially Sensitive Areas

No sensitive areas

Topics


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