"A Cotton Pickin' History for Children of All Ages"
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by Michael Wenberg, Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
Format: Hardcover, 32pp
Pub. Date: December 2002
Publisher: Beyond Words Publishing
Age Range: 9 to 12
I am aware that surprises come in many forms, and in many ways. And I was glad when I discovered Elizabeth's Song, by author, Michael Wenberg, and illustrator, Cornelius Van Wright, in my mailbox. But I admit, I was a little shocked when I opened the package.
At first glance -- judging the book by its cover, which featured a cute little girl with a guitar-- I assumed it was targeted primarily for children. Well, I soon discovered I was mistaken. Elizabeth's Song, is historical-fiction and will also be intriguing to adult readers. It is the story of Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, a, left-handed, guitar-playing, African-American folk singer, born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1893.
We begin our journey with Elizabeth in 1903, a time of sudden changes including the departure North of her beloved brother. Wenberg and Van Wright strike gold here using exceptionally choice narration and imagery to make Elizabeth's Song, a beautiful recreation of Ms. Cotten's childhood. You will share glimpses of her special moments with her family, her love of music, and her dedication to succeed. The simplistic writing makes it an easy read that children can readily enjoy and follow. And it's large print is kind to older eyes -- very convenient for letting grand kids sit in your lap while you enjoy it together. Wenberg, unearthed, polished and display a gem by writing this piece of history and offering it to the world. Van Wright, with his superb illustrations, did a wonderful job in bring this important story to life.
I had never heard of Elizabeth Cotten, or the song, Freight Train, that she composed at the age of eleven, before reading Elizabeth's Song. Nor, did I know that the down home and friendly phrase, Cotton Pickin', was inspired by this little-known lady. This is information, that many other adults probably do not know either. It was an eye-opener for me to, see A lost African-American relic brought to life. The epilogue, Wenberg included at the end, is invaluable in helping readers discover more of this forgotten, "Shero".
Amazed that I had acquired so much valuable knowledge from this seemingly childish book, I looked more carefully at the illustrations. They were a magnificent display of artistry. Mr. Van Wright provided breathtaking, richly detailed scenes that included a calico cat, a large grasshopper, frogs, and clothes hanging from shelves and potbellied stoves. Lush greens and blues mixed with creams and earth tones added softness to every page and made Elizabeth's Song pleasing to eyes of all ages.
Elizabeth's Song is a great read -- a must have, gotta own, marvelous addition to any library. I believe it will be actively read, discussed and enjoyed for many years to come. Hats off to Wenberg and Van Wright. You did well. I loved Elizabeth's Song!