Somebody to Love: The Story of Valerie June’s Sweet Little Baby Banjolele (Valerie June)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Somebody to Love: The Story of Valerie June’s Sweet Little Baby Banjolele, written by Valerie June and illustrated by Marcela Avelar, a tale of fulfilling dreams and having faith in one’s voice.

For little Valerie’s birthday, she is given a most unusual “toy” instrument, a banjolele (a small, four-stringed combination of banjo and ukelele). The little banjolele makes the most delightful sounds, tings and rings that help it to sing. Valerie adores her new friend, and takes it to a musical meetup, but the banjolele is too nervous to finish the song. Placing the instrument in a corner, Valerie forgets about her friend for years, and goes on to become a traveling musician, as the banjolele gathers dust and becomes obscured from view. That is, until the night that the household awakes to a lonely song, one that the banjolele cannot help but sing any longer.

Ambitious yet confusing. June’s story is based on her real-life “Baby” Banjolele, which she anthropomorphizes here to tell a classic lesson in letting one’s voice be heard. It’s a message with perennial resonance, yet it gets bogged down here in the often-confusing storyline, where the passage of time, symbolic relationship between artist and instrument, and inconsistent characterization are a little too enigmatic to fully engage the reader. For instance, it’s hard to empathize with Valerie’s professed deep connection to the instrument when readers just watched it be placed in a corner, left alone and forgotten for years, especially since it is defined as sentient. The book’s strongest element are Avelar’s gorgeous, rich illustrations, which are stunning works of watercolor and graphite with pops of texture and pattern. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ really enjoyed the art, but the uneven story and a jarring spelling error halfway through made reading aloud a little clunky. This one is a worth a look (and June’s beautiful song, “Somebody to Love,” is absolutely worth a listen!); even if the story is not to your taste, the remarkable artwork may be. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

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