Two Picture Books About … Queens of Music

Mahalia and MelbaMahalia Jackson and Melba Liston had a number of things in common. One was their love of music. Another was their talent.

Mahalia sang gospel. Melba played trombone. Both stood up for the rights and dignity of African-Americans.

These exceptional women are celebrated in the books, “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens,” written by Nina Nolan and illustrated by John Holyfield (2015), and “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison (2014).

What I love about “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” is the voice. It starts from the first two lines:

People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right. A voice that was bigger than she was.

That conversational tone carries through Mahalia’s youth into her adult singing career:

Mahalia kept driving on those may-blow tires: tires so bald, they may blow any minute. No money to fix them. Keep singing and driving.

I can just hear one of Mahalia’s relatives or neighbors from down south telling the story, and it makes me feel like I’m sitting on their front porch listening.

“Little Melba and Her Big Trombone” is also well-written, but it’s the artwork that really draws me. There’s something about the curving, bending stances of the people Morrison paints that so exquisitely matches the smooth notes of jazz, and I love it. The figures also mirrors the shape of Melba’s trombone.

Have you read either of these picture book biographies? If so, what did you think?

NFPB2015

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2 thoughts on “Two Picture Books About … Queens of Music

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