Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten
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Annotation: Profiles the folk singer Elizabeth Cotten, from her time as a little girl when she first picked up a guitar, to her writing of "Freight Train" by age eleven, to her renown around the world.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #151458
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
No other formats available
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Illustrator: Fazlalizadeh, Tatyana,
Pages: 40
Availability: Available
ISBN: 1-452-14857-0
ISBN 13: 978-1-452-14857-1
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 2016049429
Dimensions: 27 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
Libba Cotten, who grew up at the turn of the twentieth century, taught herself to play her big brother's guitar. Left-handed, she played upside down. When her brother moved away, she worked and saved to buy her own guitar, which she played while making up songs. Decades later, after Ruth Crawford Seeger hired Libba Cotten as a housekeeper, her talent was discovered within that very musical home. As Veirs writes in a lengthy note, Cotten performed "Freight Train," which she had written as a child, and other songs beginning in the 1950s and toured extensively for many years. Characterizing Cotten as a quiet, gentle soul, the straightforward text and informative author's note will mainly interest children and adults who love her music. The illustrations vary from a couple of scenes with awkwardly positioned figures to a handsome, expressive portrait of Cotten's face. Tinted with muted tans, blues, roses, greens, and grays, the softly shaded black drawings capture the tone of the story. A strong picture-book biography profiling a notable African American musician and songwriter.
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of folk-music icon Elizabeth Cotten.Cotten grew up hearing music in everything—everyday things. She would sneak her brother's guitar and play the sounds she heard, unconventionally playing the guitar upside down and backward—a way that made sense to her left-handedness. Though she eventually earned enough for her own guitar, as the years passed, Cotten didn't have time for music. One cleverly rendered illustration depicts various stages in Cotten's life in the cars of a passing freight train, explaining how her musical passion was (temporarily) derailed. When Cotten, now a grandmother working in a department store, encounters Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cotten becomes the musical family's housekeeper. One day, when Cotten picks up a guitar again—still playing upside down and backward—it's clear her talent and passion have not abandoned her…they've only lain dormant all those years. The Seegers use their privilege to help, and Cotten's talent is appreciated worldwide. Both endpapers and the book cover put guitar imagery to good use, and lovely graphite illustrations lend the story an old-time-y, country feel—a perfect pairing with Cotton's folk music. An inspiring tale of an artist who came into her own later in life than traditional narratives lead readers to believe is normal. (author's note, works cited) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
Publishers Weekly
As a child in North Carolina at the end of the 19th century, Elizabeth Cotten taught herself to play her brother-s guitar. It didn-t matter that she was left-handed: she just played the guitar upside down. -It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot,- writes Veirs, a singer-songwriter making her children-s book debut. Cotten didn-t pursue a career in music (-Time swept Libba up, and she stopped playing guitar-), and when readers next see her, she is a grandmother working in a department store. After being hired as a housekeeper by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cotten impressed the famous family of folk musicians with her playing, leading to a lovely second act as a musician. Newcomer Fazlalizadeh-s graphite drawings bring a moody atmosphere to Cotten-s story, an elegant and moving portrait of a musician-s late-in-life success and singular approach to her craft. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)

School Library Journal Starred Review
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 guitarupside 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 LibbaBut 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 readerspurchase for all picture book biography collections. Amanda C. Buschmann, Carroll Elementary School, Houston
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
A biography of folk-music icon Elizabeth Cotten.Cotten grew up hearing music in everything—everyday things. She would sneak her brother's guitar and play the sounds she heard, unconventionally playing the guitar upside down and backward—a way that made sense to her left-handedness. Though she eventually earned enough for her own guitar, as the years passed, Cotten didn't have time for music. One cleverly rendered illustration depicts various stages in Cotten's life in the cars of a passing freight train, explaining how her musical passion was (temporarily) derailed. When Cotten, now a grandmother working in a department store, encounters Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cotten becomes the musical family's housekeeper. One day, when Cotten picks up a guitar again—still playing upside down and backward—it's clear her talent and passion have not abandoned her…they've only lain dormant all those years. The Seegers use their privilege to help, and Cotten's talent is appreciated worldwide. Both endpapers and the book cover put guitar imagery to good use, and lovely graphite illustrations lend the story an old-time-y, country feel—a perfect pairing with Cotton's folk music. An inspiring tale of an artist who came into her own later in life than traditional narratives lead readers to believe is normal. (author's note, works cited) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Word Count: 772
Reading Level: 3.5
Interest Level: K-3
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.5 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 193583 / grade: Lower Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:3.3 / points:3.0 / quiz:Q72657
Lexile: 580L
Guided Reading Level: Q

This lyrical, loving picture book from popular singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and debut illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh tells the story of the determined, gifted, daring Elizabeth Cotten—one of the most celebrated American folk musicians of all time.

Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn't hers (it was her big brother's), and it wasn't strung right for her (she was left-handed). But she flipped that guitar upside down and backwards and taught herself how to play it anyway. By age eleven, she'd written "Freight Train," one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. And by the end of her life, people everywhere—from the sunny beaches of California to the rolling hills of England—knew her music.

A Junior Library Guild selection

★ "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." —School Library Journal, starred review

★ "An inspiring tale of an artist." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ "Elegant and moving."—Publishers Weekly, starred review


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