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Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten (Early Elementary Story Books, Children's Music Books, Biography Books for Kids)

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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 brothe 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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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 brothe 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

30 review for Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten (Early Elementary Story Books, Children's Music Books, Biography Books for Kids)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Calista

    I admit to never having heard of Libba Cotten. She was born in the late 1890s in North Carolina. She was a musical genius with no training, but she could write songs and play guitar. She was left handed so she played it upside down and backwards. She went about life, having a family, getting divorced and working menial jobs. She was working as a doll clerk when she meet the musician Ruth Seegar and she became their housemaid. They were a professional musical family. One day they heard her playin I admit to never having heard of Libba Cotten. She was born in the late 1890s in North Carolina. She was a musical genius with no training, but she could write songs and play guitar. She was left handed so she played it upside down and backwards. She went about life, having a family, getting divorced and working menial jobs. She was working as a doll clerk when she meet the musician Ruth Seegar and she became their housemaid. They were a professional musical family. One day they heard her playing and singing and they fell in love with her music. She was in her 60s at this point. She began recording and singing her songs. That's not a story we hear very often, someone making it in the business after 60. Usually a career is over by then. I'm not sure if I've heard her big hit, folktune Freight train or not. She was covered by many 60s artists like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. I need to do a little research into Libba as I'm interested in hearing her music. This is an amazing story that Libba finally got her moment after all the things she went through in her life. Sometimes, life can be so beautiful and can give back. The artwork is plain and almost like charcoal drawings. It plays with light and dark and a muted palate. It's a beautiful story.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Schaafsma

    First picture book by popular singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Libba grew up in the south; Libba liked music, but was left-handed, and there was only one guitar in the house, so she played in upside down, and backwards, and did all of her life. I saw this at the library, and I recalled seeing Cotten at the 1987 Ann Arbor Folk Festival, in the last year of her life. She was 94 and was quite frail; she needed two guys to escort her on stage. She seemed a little d First picture book by popular singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Libba grew up in the south; Libba liked music, but was left-handed, and there was only one guitar in the house, so she played in upside down, and backwards, and did all of her life. I saw this at the library, and I recalled seeing Cotten at the 1987 Ann Arbor Folk Festival, in the last year of her life. She was 94 and was quite frail; she needed two guys to escort her on stage. She seemed a little disoriented at first, then began playing this her most famous song, "Freight Train," and she just sailed on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43-UU... Here's a five minute documentary about her if you're interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k439N... The book is a pretty good intro for kids to Cotten, but the story arc isn't all that great, and the art is good, but not really striking. I liked it, though, knowing her story and music.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Missy

    Once again, I feel the need to take out my percussive energies on the proverbial equine. Adults: if you're not reading children's picture book biographies, you are really missing something special. The books are beautifully produced. They provide a quick and concise introduction to a notable person. But here's your real loss: children's picture book biographies often celebrate individuals whose stories have not been widely told (or worse, someone who's story has been co-opted or stolen by someon Once again, I feel the need to take out my percussive energies on the proverbial equine. Adults: if you're not reading children's picture book biographies, you are really missing something special. The books are beautifully produced. They provide a quick and concise introduction to a notable person. But here's your real loss: children's picture book biographies often celebrate individuals whose stories have not been widely told (or worse, someone who's story has been co-opted or stolen by someone else). The subject is usually a woman or a person of color or both. Libba Cotten was a woman of color, born in North Carolina in the late 1890s. Her mother was a midwife and her father was a dynamite setter. While Libba had limited formal education, she had remarkable natural gifts as a musician, teaching herself to play the guitar at the age of 8. And because she was left-handed, Libba taught herself to play the guitar ... upside down and backwards! Through a remarkable coincidence -- after about 30 years of not playing the guitar -- Libba was hired to work as a domestic in the home of Ruth Seeger. If that name is familiar, it's probably because of Pete Seeger, the American musical treasure. Pete was just one of many very muscially talented and influential members of the Seeger family. Ruth happened upon Libba playing the guitar one day and the rest should be history. But Libba was a woman of color, and her work was co-opted by others. With the help of the Seegers, Libba took creative control of her work and toured in the US and Europe into her 90s. You might be thinking: well, this doesn't sound like a book for kids. But it is. The details above are contained in a very helpful four-page author's note. The heart of the book -- written by singer/songwriter Laura Veirs -- is text that is lyrical and accessible for kids and adults alike. Accompanying Veirs' text are charcoal illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (whose name sounds like music to me!) With a limited color palette and a sketchy quality, the images are warm and inviting. Once again, a children's picture book biography has introduced me to a person of talent and/or contribution whose story has not been otherwise widely told. And I was treated to lovely images while learning about "the magnificent musical life of Elizabeth Cotten." (If you're feeling a bit curious about picture book biographies, here's a list of some of my favorites.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Lorenz

    I was listening to different renditions of Shake Shugaree yesterday for a storytime I have coming up and I pulled this off our new picture book shelf this morning. I had no idea that Elizabeth Cotten didn't get her start until very late in her life. This book was lovely. The graphite and digital color illustrations are gorgeous, the semi rough look of the graphite with the smoothness that only digital colorization can give. I like the repetition of upside down and backwards - like how Cotten's m I was listening to different renditions of Shake Shugaree yesterday for a storytime I have coming up and I pulled this off our new picture book shelf this morning. I had no idea that Elizabeth Cotten didn't get her start until very late in her life. This book was lovely. The graphite and digital color illustrations are gorgeous, the semi rough look of the graphite with the smoothness that only digital colorization can give. I like the repetition of upside down and backwards - like how Cotten's musical career went - upside and backwards. I think a little bit about what it meant to be a black artist or a black musician during that time would've been a good addition to this. The afterword was very informative and helped personalize the story noting the author's connection with Cotten. And that works cited just made me so happy. LOTS of works that could be referenced if someone wanted to know more about Elizabeth Cotten and her music. That photo on the last page just sealed the whole deal for me. Very well done picture book biography.

  5. 4 out of 5

    mindful.librarian ☀️

    This is a beautifully illustrated account of the life of a musician I did not know of. However, I found the author's note to be so much more useful than the main text in actually learning about Elizabeth Cotton, and probably wouldn't choose this as a read aloud because of this. The back matter is extensive, which is wonderful, but one thing bothers me a little - the author notes that she took artistic liberties in stating that Libba played in Rome (in the main text), which to me confuses the gen This is a beautifully illustrated account of the life of a musician I did not know of. However, I found the author's note to be so much more useful than the main text in actually learning about Elizabeth Cotton, and probably wouldn't choose this as a read aloud because of this. The back matter is extensive, which is wonderful, but one thing bothers me a little - the author notes that she took artistic liberties in stating that Libba played in Rome (in the main text), which to me confuses the genre of the book. I tell students that they can use picture book biographies for research purposes, but in this case, the book would have given incorrect information that was then corrected in the author's note. In my opinion, that could have easily been eliminated. A worthy attempt, but I would recommend this only as a secondary purchase for school libraries. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this title!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Donalyn

    Don't miss the author's note, which provides more information about Elizabeth Cotten. The illustrations are gorgeous, but the text was spare in a way that left gaps.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    Beautiful illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh accompany the story of Libba Cotten. And what an inspirational story for children: Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten was born in North Carolina, around 1893, granddaughter of freed slaves. Though she was about 7 and had no training, she picked up her brother's guitar and played simply based on listening to him (clearly a natural talent!) Libba was left-handed, though, and had to play it upside down and backwards. The story follows her life to the moment she Beautiful illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh accompany the story of Libba Cotten. And what an inspirational story for children: Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten was born in North Carolina, around 1893, granddaughter of freed slaves. Though she was about 7 and had no training, she picked up her brother's guitar and played simply based on listening to him (clearly a natural talent!) Libba was left-handed, though, and had to play it upside down and backwards. The story follows her life to the moment she works as a housekeeper for a musical family; a family that discovers her ability and sets her on a path of success in the music industry. Libba wrote a song called "Freight Train" as a teen, that is still well-known today! A wonderful book that will introduce young readers to diverse characters in U.S. history. -- Sara Z.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    In the author's note, Laura Veirs talks about first hearing the classic folk song "Freight Train" sung to her by parents at bedtime, but only years later learning about its songwriter Elizabeth Cotten. My dad used to sing the same song while playing his guitar and swaying in a rocking chair, me perched at his feet, trying to sing along. It's one of my most vivid and lasting childhood memories. I'm embarrassed to admit, however, that it's this picture book that made me aware of Cotten. I will cer In the author's note, Laura Veirs talks about first hearing the classic folk song "Freight Train" sung to her by parents at bedtime, but only years later learning about its songwriter Elizabeth Cotten. My dad used to sing the same song while playing his guitar and swaying in a rocking chair, me perched at his feet, trying to sing along. It's one of my most vivid and lasting childhood memories. I'm embarrassed to admit, however, that it's this picture book that made me aware of Cotten. I will certainly be seeking out recordings, now. As for the quality of the book itself - I'm a huge Laura Veirs fan, so I'm disappointed the writing here isn't more lyrical, more haunting, more compelling, the way a good Veirs song is. It's all pretty ho-hum, but with a heartfelt author's note. The illustrations, though, are lovely, soft and glowing and evocative of an older time, of a faraway melody.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*

    Veirs, Laura Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. NONFICTION. PICTURE BOOK. Chronicle Books, 2018. $18. 9781452148571 This nonfiction picture book tells of the extraordinary life of Elizabeth Cotten, a left-handed musical prodigy who grew up playing her guitar backwards and upside down. She became famous late in life through a combination of luck, talent, and pure hard work, and was best known for her song "Freight Train." Libba is a beautif Veirs, Laura Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. NONFICTION. PICTURE BOOK. Chronicle Books, 2018. $18. 9781452148571 This nonfiction picture book tells of the extraordinary life of Elizabeth Cotten, a left-handed musical prodigy who grew up playing her guitar backwards and upside down. She became famous late in life through a combination of luck, talent, and pure hard work, and was best known for her song "Freight Train." Libba is a beautifully-illustrated biography that shows it's never too early to start on your dreams -- and never too late to fulfill them. EL -- ADVISABLE. Sydney G., K-6 Library Media Specialist https://kissthebook.blogspot.com/2018...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shaye Miller

    Moving story of Elizabeth Cotton -- starting with her childhood when she first picked up her brother's guitar to play, to her experiences with the Seegers, to her eventually playing all over including the "grand cathedrals in London and velvet theaters in Rome." Freight Train is still one of the most famous songs ever recorded. Lovely book to be read again. The back matter includes 7 pages of an author's note, works cited, and a photograph of Elizabeth Cotten's great grandchildren. The artwork w Moving story of Elizabeth Cotton -- starting with her childhood when she first picked up her brother's guitar to play, to her experiences with the Seegers, to her eventually playing all over including the "grand cathedrals in London and velvet theaters in Rome." Freight Train is still one of the most famous songs ever recorded. Lovely book to be read again. The back matter includes 7 pages of an author's note, works cited, and a photograph of Elizabeth Cotten's great grandchildren. The artwork was rendered in graphite and digital color. For more #kidlit, #mglit, and #yalit book reviews, please visit my blog: The Miller Memo.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Earl

    I love nonfiction picture books with great back matter material. In her author's note, Laura Veirs writes about how this story came about and provides more information about Elizabeth Cotten. This is a great story of a girl who was meant to play music despite all the things going against her. The illustrations are outstanding.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kate Alleman

    I put this book on hold because I saw that Laura Veirs (a folk singer I really like) wrote a book, then I fell in love with this book because I learned about someone new. I've noticed an increase in books for children being written about lesser known figures in history. I love that kids can discover more than the usual historical suspects.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Simply told and beautifully illustrated picturebook biography of folksinger Elizabeth Cotten, who was from Chapel Hill and became famous all over the world for her upside-down-and-backwards guitar style.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Turrean

    Loved it. This really spoke to me: Elizabeth Cotten did realize success, but only after interruptions from other events in her life. Works more as a picture book than as a biography, since the author glosses over decades of Cotten’s life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    It's hard for me to be objective about a story about a woman of color coming into her own later in life who PLAYS GUITAR and is LEFT-HANDED. I first learned to play guitar upside down, because it's all there was. I can still play a handful of chords upside down. We lefties are resourceful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sierra

    3.5, mostly because I really like the illustrations.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justin Langlois

    This is a great story. I'd never heard of Elizabeth Cotten. She was playing like Jimi Hendrix before Jimi Hendrix!

  18. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Interesting bio about Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (1893-1987) who's song Shake Sugaree inspired the Grateful Dead musicians to write their song Sugaree!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Elizabeth Cotten, known as “Libba,” was born in North Carolina in 1893. (She died in 1987.) As she told Mike Seeger (a half-brother of Pete Seeger), in a 1966 interview, “My father’s people was Indians. My father’s mother was a slave. My mother’s people were not slaves.” Her older brother Claude played the banjo, and Libba would practice on it even though she had to play it upside down because she was left-handed. When Claude moved away, taking his banjo with him, Libba did chores for other peopl Elizabeth Cotten, known as “Libba,” was born in North Carolina in 1893. (She died in 1987.) As she told Mike Seeger (a half-brother of Pete Seeger), in a 1966 interview, “My father’s people was Indians. My father’s mother was a slave. My mother’s people were not slaves.” Her older brother Claude played the banjo, and Libba would practice on it even though she had to play it upside down because she was left-handed. When Claude moved away, taking his banjo with him, Libba did chores for other people so she could save up for a guitar, which she was able to buy for $3.75. [Note: the author writes that Claude had a guitar in addition to the banjo that Libba played, but Libba herself recalled that Claude only had a banjo.] When Libba transferred her songs to the guitar, she used a unique style reflecting the different pitch positions of strings on the two instruments. She taught herself to play using first two, then three fingers. [Today this is known as the "Cotten style" of playing the guitar; Libba is considered one of the "finest fingerpickers on record," according to Guitar Player magazine. Her fingerpicking techniques influenced many other musicians.] She played whenever she could, and wrote her first song when she was still 12. “Freight Train” is a tune most readers will recognize, since it has been covered many times by singers ranging from Pete Seeger to Paul McCartney. [As has historically been the case with black songwriters, the copyright for the song was misappropriated by others. In Libba’s case, the Seeger family worked to get the copyright restored to her.] The author writes that “Time swept Libba up, and she stopped playing guitar.” A picture in this book showing Libba holding a baby suggests that family got in the way. Libba herself tells a much more interesting story: “I [dropped the guitar for a while] on account of religion. . . . I was baptized. The deacons, if any of them people see you or hear tell of you doing something that’s not Christian, they would report it at the church. So they told me, ‘You cannot live for God and live for the devil.’ If you’re going to play them old worldly songs, them old ragtime things, you can’t serve God that way. You’ve either got to do one or the other.” She relates that it was hard for her, but she gradually stopped playing. It was only after that decision that she married, and then had a baby and housework that keep her too busy to play. In addition, she took in washing and ironing to help earn money for the family. In time, she said, she mostly forgot about the guitar. When Libba was in her sixties and a grandmother, she worked in a department store. One day, the author reports, Libba encountered a little girl lost in the store. She found the child’s mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, who happened to be part of the famous musical Seeger family. Ruth offered Libba a job as the family’s housekeeper. Libba loved how the house was filled with music. One day Libba picked up one of the guitars and began to play: “Soon the whole house was turned upside down and backwards. The children were clearing the dishes and washing up. The bluesmen were singing Libba’s songs.” As an article on American Folkways from the Smithsonian relates that the Seegers were “astonished” by what they heard, and not only encouraged Libba's playing but helped publicize her virtuosity. The Smithsonian reports: "By 1958, at the age of sixty-two, Libba had recorded her first album, Elizabeth Cotten: Negro Folk Songs and Tunes (Folkways 1957, now reissued as Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs, Smithsonian Folkways 1989). Meticulously recorded by Mike Seeger, this was one of the few authentic folk-music albums available by the early 1960s, and certainly one of the most influential. In addition to the now well-recorded tune "Freight Train," penned by Cotten when she was only eleven or twelve, the album provided accessible examples of some of the ‘open’ tunings used in American folk guitar. She played two distinct styles on the banjo and four on the guitar, including her single-string melody picking ‘Freight Train’ style, an adaptation of Southeastern country ragtime picking.” Libba became part of the folk music revival of the 1960s and 1970s, and went on tour throughout America and Europe. The author concludes: “Libba turned her guitar upside down and backwards so she could play it her own way. She turned the music world upside down and backwards, too.” The author affixes an extensive Note to the end of the book, observing: “Today, ‘Freight Train’ is considered one of the most famous folk songs in the world.” In 1984 Cotten was declared a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts and she received a Grammy Award in 1985 when she was ninety, almost eighty years after she first began composing her own works. The author herself is a singer and songwriter, and expresses admiration for Libba who “accomplished so much despite growing up poor in the segregated South where very few opportunities were available to her.” She explains that Libba’s story appeals to her “as a musician, as a woman, and as a fan of folk history.” A bibliography including links to websites and videos is included. Graphite drawings with soft focus and muted colors help convey the historic nature of the story. The illustrator, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is an excellent choice for this story. She is an activist and lecturer who speaks out for the rights of women and people of color. She is also the creator of Stop Telling Women to Smile, an international street art series that tackles gender-based street harassment. Evaluation: This book provides an introduction to a courageous and persistent young girl whose achievements should not be forgotten. Accompanying this story with a Youtube video of Libba Cotten is an absolute must. There are many on Youtube; the rendition by Joan Baez, available on Youtube as well, is also worth seeking out.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Told in a structure reminiscent of Cotten’s own folk song, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs tells the story of an music idol of hers: Elizabeth Cotten. When Libba was a young girl, she took up her brother’s guitar. In order to play it left-handed, she flipped it up and around and played it backwards. Once her brother left the house, she had to raise money for her own guitar, again turning it upside down and backwards. Inspired by the sounds and rhythms of her life, she composed the iconic folk song “ Told in a structure reminiscent of Cotten’s own folk song, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs tells the story of an music idol of hers: Elizabeth Cotten. When Libba was a young girl, she took up her brother’s guitar. In order to play it left-handed, she flipped it up and around and played it backwards. Once her brother left the house, she had to raise money for her own guitar, again turning it upside down and backwards. Inspired by the sounds and rhythms of her life, she composed the iconic folk song “Freight Train” before she was 13 years old. “But even trains get derailed.” Libba’s since become a grandmother when she meets Ruth Crawford Seeger in a department store. It’s in this famous musical family’s household that Libba comes to work and eventually returns to the guitar. Just as when she was young, as if no time has passed, Libba finds the time and opportunity to pick up the guitar while left unoccupied. “Dang!” cried the kids. “She can play!” cried the bluesmen. Soon the whole house was turned upside down and backwards.” And then so would the music world. She toured, exposing the world to her music and her voice. According to the “Author’s Note,” she would record her first album in her early sixties. “Libba’s songs would be covered by Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; and the Grateful Dead, among many others.” Fazlalizadeh’s illustrations translate a simple richness to Libba’s story. The only time she isn’t the single focal point of a page is when she meets Ruth Crawford Seeger. They’d nearly seem equals if not for the forward lean as Libba’s arm rests on Mrs. Seeger’s daughter’s shoulder, portraying her as “kind and gentle.” The echoing of an earlier portrait of Libba listening is lovely. And the story shows how the qualities and the talent of the young Libba are found and continue to be nurtured in the older Libba; it just took time for her to be heard. And it took people with access to present her to the musical world. “The Seegers believed in Libba and helped spread the word about her music. But it was Libba’s perseverance, her love of music, and her belief in herself that gave the world her voice.” I encourage you to read this book (to yourself) as you play “Freight Train.” https://contemplatrix.wordpress.com/2...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.5 @kidlitexchange #partner Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Do you hear music everywhere you go? Do you hear it in everyday chores and activities? Elizabeth Cotten did! She heard it in the water she brought to her mother, in the ax she used to chop wood, and in the freight trains that passed by. She loved music so much that one day she snuck into her brothers room when he was at work to play his Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.5 @kidlitexchange #partner Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Do you hear music everywhere you go? Do you hear it in everyday chores and activities? Elizabeth Cotten did! She heard it in the water she brought to her mother, in the ax she used to chop wood, and in the freight trains that passed by. She loved music so much that one day she snuck into her brothers room when he was at work to play his guitar. The only problem was that her brother, Claude, was right-handed and Libba was left-handed. This sure didn't stop Libba! She just flipped the guitar upside down and played it backwards. When Claude moved out to get a job, Libba had to work extra chores to earn enough money to buy a guitar of her own. By the age of eleven, Libba had written her first song, Freight Train. However, life went on and Libba grew older and had quit playing the guitar, that is until she got a job as the Seeger's housekeeper. Read this beautifully illustrated and written book to find out what happened to Libba and how she became one of the most well-known folk singers. This book is beyond amazing! The story is written in such an incredibly easy way to read and the illustrations are just gorgeous. I have never heard of Elizabeth Cotten until I read this book, but now I am a big fan! Do not miss reading this book!! Follow me: Facebook - Laurie’s Library Place - https://www.facebook.com/LauriesLibra... Instagram - laurieslibrary - https://www.instagram.com/laurieslibr... Twitter - https://twitter.com/lauriepurser27 Goodreads - Laurie Purser - https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1... Blog - Blazer Tales - https://blazertales.weebly.com/

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Hudson

    Elizabeth Cotten was a self-taught musician who learned to play the guitar upside down and backwards, as she was left handed. While she composed her first song at the age of 13, she didn’t start performing or receive recognition for her work until she was a grandmother. Laura Veirs tells the story of this woman who loved making music in a picture book called Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Today, Libba Cotten is most known for the folk song, “Freight Train,” which became Elizabeth Cotten was a self-taught musician who learned to play the guitar upside down and backwards, as she was left handed. While she composed her first song at the age of 13, she didn’t start performing or receive recognition for her work until she was a grandmother. Laura Veirs tells the story of this woman who loved making music in a picture book called Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Today, Libba Cotten is most known for the folk song, “Freight Train,” which became an international hit in the 1950s and is still revered today. Cotten’s path to performing took a winding route, from her poor upbringing in North Carolina, to family life and domestic jobs, to a chance encounter with a musician who hired her as a housekeeper. Although Libba didn’t play guitar for decades, she never lost her love of making music. As illustrator, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh captures the somber tone of Libba’s life while infusing a sense of musicality and quiet joy into the drawings. An author’s note at the back gives more information about Libba’s life as well as suggestions for places to find more information. Author Viers, herself an acclaimed singer songwriter, talks about her own history with “Freight Train,” her surprise at discovering the story of the woman who wrote it, and her desire to tell that story. Libba is a story of serendipity, triumph, and an unwavering commitment to producing art to soothe the soul. The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I'd never heard of folk singer Elizabeth (Libba) Cotten before picking up this picture book, but I came away impressed by her resilience and creativity. Because she was left-handed, she learned to play her brother's guitar backwards and wrote a song when she was eleven years old. Although music filled her soul, she didn't get much recognition until much later in her life. A chance encounter with Ruth Crawford Seeger, another musician, led to a job as a housekeeper in a house simply brimming with I'd never heard of folk singer Elizabeth (Libba) Cotten before picking up this picture book, but I came away impressed by her resilience and creativity. Because she was left-handed, she learned to play her brother's guitar backwards and wrote a song when she was eleven years old. Although music filled her soul, she didn't get much recognition until much later in her life. A chance encounter with Ruth Crawford Seeger, another musician, led to a job as a housekeeper in a house simply brimming with music and musicians. When they happened to hear her playing, they realized what a musical treasure they had in their midst. An Author's Note provides additional details about her life and highlights the fact that she was touring in her sixties, seventies, and eighties, even winning a Grammy late in life. The story is fascinating, and the illustrations, created with graphite and digital color, are especially impressive when they focus on a close-up of her face as she listens to music and the sounds around her. There's even a photo of Cotten playing the guitar for her great-grandchildren in the back matter. While I might wish for a CD, there are several suggested YouTube videos of this talented woman, leaving readers like me sighing in pleasure at having yet another forgotten musician's story told for the current generation of readers. There are only hints at some of the challenges she faced along the way to her success and not much mention of civil rights issues.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    When Libba was a little girl, she heard music everywhere, so she would borrow her brother’s guitar to play the music in her head. Her brother was right handed though, so Libba would need to play his guitar upside down and backward. When her brother left home, he took his guitar with him so Libba worked small jobs to earn enough money for her own guitar. She wrote her first song at age thirteen and played the guitar all the time. But then life happened and Libba stopped playing. Late in her life, When Libba was a little girl, she heard music everywhere, so she would borrow her brother’s guitar to play the music in her head. Her brother was right handed though, so Libba would need to play his guitar upside down and backward. When her brother left home, he took his guitar with him so Libba worked small jobs to earn enough money for her own guitar. She wrote her first song at age thirteen and played the guitar all the time. But then life happened and Libba stopped playing. Late in her life, Libba got a job as a housekeeper for a musical family, the Seegers, connected to many of the great musicians of the time. Eventually, she picked up a guitar and played it and the family heard her play. Soon she was playing large venues and her first song, Freight Train, was heard around the world. In this delicate and gentle biography, first-time picture book author Veirs who is also a musician, captures the life and the music of Cotten. She includes an author’s note that speaks more to the limited options for an African-American woman in the segregated South. The illustrations are very special, done in the organic warmth of graphite with digital color added, they glow on the page. Share this picture book biography with musicians of all ages and then listen to Cotten’s songs together as she plays upside down and backwards. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A picture-book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, an African American folk musician whose songs and music apparently only became known to the world when she was a grandparent. The graphite illustrations with subtle colors show Cotten's joy & satisfaction in her creative outlet, and - using 1/4 profiles, which eloquently convey the sort of anonymity she was probably subjected to for most of her life - also show her disappointment, patience, & forbearance during many long years of hard work when she w A picture-book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, an African American folk musician whose songs and music apparently only became known to the world when she was a grandparent. The graphite illustrations with subtle colors show Cotten's joy & satisfaction in her creative outlet, and - using 1/4 profiles, which eloquently convey the sort of anonymity she was probably subjected to for most of her life - also show her disappointment, patience, & forbearance during many long years of hard work when she was unable to pursue her interest in music. This would be an excellent story to read aloud to children in Kindergarten through 2nd grade, especially if you can play her music for them - either on recordings or on a guitar. It gives a sense of the history of African Americans and of folk musicians - and rightly puts the focus on Cotten, while mentioning the role the Seeger family played in bringing her to world attention. It would probably have been good for Veirs to mention in the Author's Note that the Seeger family played a similar role in the lives of many other musicians, instead of simply saying they were "famous" - which doesn't explain their ground-breaking work recording, learning from, and publicizing American folk musicians.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    I just recently came across Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s recordings trying to track down “Freight Train,” which I have been humming or mumbling from memory for decades. And then I have just discovered Laura Veirs as a singer-songwriter. What a great convergence to then have this book published. Veirs’ account of Cotten’s life and influence, especially for female artists, is sparse but a great tribute to this African American folk artist. Fazlalizadeh’s graphite illustrations thrum with so much lif I just recently came across Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s recordings trying to track down “Freight Train,” which I have been humming or mumbling from memory for decades. And then I have just discovered Laura Veirs as a singer-songwriter. What a great convergence to then have this book published. Veirs’ account of Cotten’s life and influence, especially for female artists, is sparse but a great tribute to this African American folk artist. Fazlalizadeh’s graphite illustrations thrum with so much life and pathos, giving Cotten’s life and world a solidity and groundedness, an ideal pairing with Veirs for this production. The Author’s Note at the conclusion gives a narrative and sometimes redundant account of Cotten’s life and her influence for the author, while the Works Cited offers a splendid bibliography to drill down from. This book has been thought through at all its levels, leaving plenty of space on most pages for the story to breathe, showcasing “Freight Train,” and even in its choice of a light gray paper for the pages that just begs for the illustrator’s graphite, and the inside front and back covers adding roughly life-size illustrations of hands on guitar necks.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    “Libba Cotten heard music everywhere.” Though Libba was left-handed, she taught herself how to play her brother’s right-handed guitar. “It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your feet.” When her brother left to find work and took his guitar, Libba worked and saved to buy her own guitar. She even wrote songs before she was even 13 years old. “But even trains get derailed.” And Libba had to put away her guitar and find work. But fate intervened when Libba met Ruth Crawford Seeger. Libba’s ac “Libba Cotten heard music everywhere.” Though Libba was left-handed, she taught herself how to play her brother’s right-handed guitar. “It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your feet.” When her brother left to find work and took his guitar, Libba worked and saved to buy her own guitar. She even wrote songs before she was even 13 years old. “But even trains get derailed.” And Libba had to put away her guitar and find work. But fate intervened when Libba met Ruth Crawford Seeger. Libba’s act of kindness opened up the door of opportunity. And with the Seeger’s connections and Libba’s perserverence and belief in herself, she became a performer and travelled the world. Her song Freight Train is “one of the most popular folks songs in the word.” Includes an extensive author’s note and bibliography that gives more detailed information. Here’s a recording of Libba playing/singing Freight Train: ‪ https://folkways.si.edu/elizabeth-cot...‬

  28. 5 out of 5

    June

    I always wish that musical biographies would include a CD! However, I was intrigued enough that I did look for her playing "Freight Train" when I was typing up this review. The story of Libba Cotten, who was a self-taught musician, played upside down and backwards and wrote her first song before she was 13. She was discovered by the Seegers.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    How inspiring. From writing the song Freight Train at age 11, to touring as a musician beginning in her 60s, she had an interesting life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten is a children's picture book written by Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It is a cursory biography of Elizabeth Cotten who found her older brother's guitar and learned how to play it – upside down and backwards, because she was left-handed. February, at least in my part of the world is Black History Month, which I plan to read one children's book, particularly a biography, which pertains to the subject everyday this month Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten is a children's picture book written by Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It is a cursory biography of Elizabeth Cotten who found her older brother's guitar and learned how to play it – upside down and backwards, because she was left-handed. February, at least in my part of the world is Black History Month, which I plan to read one children's book, particularly a biography, which pertains to the subject everyday this month. Therefore, I thought that this book would be apropos for today. Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter. A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. She played a guitar strung for a right-handed player, but played it upside down, as she was left-handed. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking". Veirs' text is rather simplistic, straightforward, and informative. It starts with young Elizabeth Cotten picking up a guitar and learned how to play despite the guitar being strung incorrect for her. Fazlalizaeh's illustrations are drawn rather well and depicted the narrative rather nicely. The graphite drawing brings a somber atmosphere. The premise of the book is rather straightforward. It depicts Elizabeth Cotten teaching herself to play her brother's guitar. It didn't matter that she was left-handed: she just played the guitar upside down. Cotten didn't pursue a career in music and when we see her next 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. All in all, Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten celebrates the life of Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, and that it is never too late to chase one's dreams.

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