Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year (Kathy Z. Price)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the stunning Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year, written by Kathy Z. Price and illustrated by Carl Joe Williams, a moving tale of trauma, recovery, and the magic of Mardi Gras.

In post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Lala, her younger brother Babyboy, and her Mamma and Pop-Pop are recovering from the losses of the floods, including the house Lala’s father built. Months later, when Mardi Gras – the family’s favorite time of year – rolls around, Lala and Babyboy are discouraged by their Mamma’s dour mood and the fact that their father hasn’t played his trumpet since the storm. After a failed attempt to get Mamma in the Mardi Gras spirit, the two wander the wreckage of their old neighborhood, feeling forlorn over the many changes in the last year. That night, after a dream of the hurricane and of Mardi Gras past, Lala makes a decision: this year, her family needs Mardi Gras more than ever – and she’s going to make it happen.

Powerful. The many striking elements of Price’s lyrical, rhythmic free verse text and Williams’s electric mixed-media illustrations weave together to tell a grounded story that celebrates a culture, a city, and the power of hope. Reading Price’s words aloud are a feast for the eyes and ears, telling a deeply emotional story with authentic New Orleans vernacular and cadence, immersing the reader in Lala’s world. The incredibly atmospheric artwork deftly captures each moment of sorrow and joy through exquisite use of color, movement, and character design. Backmatter includes an author’s note and glossary that enriches the story even further. The length is probably best for elementary readers and older, as JJ was feeling a little antsy towards the end, but she loved the incredible colors and musical text. This one is a love letter to Mardi Gras and New Orleans, and a beautiful message on finding joy in hard times. Baby Bookworm!

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

Freedom In Congo Square (Carole Boston Weatherford)

Hello, friends! We’re wrapping up Black History Month tonight with the award-winning Freedom In Congo Square, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

They count the days. Each day, the unnamed slaves of a Louisiana plantation labor without rest under the watchful eye – and occasionally cruel lash – of their masters and overseers. Anonymous, featureless figures with bent backs toiling over crops, washbins, stoves and hearths. They tend the animals, harvest the fields, cook the meals, clean the house, even raise the children of their owners. Some disobey; they are beaten. Some try to run; they risk capture and far worse. So they count down to Sunday, the half-day every week when they are allowed to gather, slave and free black man alike, in Congo Square in New Orleans. They play music, dance, exchange information. It’s here they can remember their roots, it’s here that jazz will be born, and it’s here that they can, for a few short hours, taste life without servitude as free men and women.

Gorgeous and moving. The story is flawlessly laid out in elegantly simple couplets, introducing the oppressive lives of the slaves first to make the cathartic emotions of their precious freedoms all the more impactful. The text is honest without being sensationalist, presenting the themes and emotions plainly yet poignantly. The art is stunning – faceless black bodies work against backgrounds that nearly breathe with heat and exhaustion, giving way to the vibrant images of Congo square, where at last the figures are given features and life as they shake off their subjugation for a while. The length is great, and JJ liked it a lot. We highly recommend it, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Trombone Shorty (Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Trombone Shorty, an autobiographical picture book written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, a fun and fascinating tale that celebrates music and the people who love it.

“Where Y’at?” That’s how people in New Orleans greet each other, a town as friendly and musical as there ever was. And in the neighborhood of Tremé, there once lived a little boy named Troy, who loved music so much that he would play it without an instrument. He would play along with his older brother’s band and with the bands that played in the Mardi Gras parades. One day, Troy finds a trombone, beat up, but still having music to give. Troy carries the heavy instrument wherever he goes, teaching himself to play and dreaming of making “music gumbo”, a music that mixes together all the styles and feelings he adores. His brother encourages him, bestowing him with the nickname “Trombone Shorty” on account on of the instrument’s size compared to his. He plays without fear, marching with the parades as a small boy, and even being invited onstage for an impromptu performance with Bo Diddley. Now Troy is successful musician, playing around the world with his band – but he always returns to New Orleans, finding and encouraging young musicians as his brother once did for him.

Lovely! Mixing together elements of a musical biography and a love letter to New Orleans, Andrews tells his tale with verve and excitement, writing passionately about his home and music in a way that inspires infectious joy (the author’s photos in the back are especially adorable). Collier’s mixed-media art is as spectacular as ever, seamlessly mixing in photography with illustration to create spreads that sing with the spirit and music of the text. The length is great, and JJ and I both loved it. A must-read for any young music lover, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!