Today I decided to update the look of the blog, so I wanted to do a special first post to celebrate the new layout. Today’s selection is an award-winning children’s picture book: Trombone Shorty (2015, Abrams Books for Young Readers). Written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, the book is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, and its illustrator Collier won the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. And let me tell you. The book does not disappoint.
The book is an autobiographical text about the musical beginnings of Trombone Shorty, a New Orleans native. The book reads as though it’s more about a Treme legend who lived long ago instead of the living leader of the current Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
Here’s what I LOVED about this book:
Collier’s illustrations are amazing. I always say if I have to resist the urge to rip the pages out of a book and put them on my wall, then I know I’m looking at wonderful illustrations. Collier does an excellent job of expressing the loudness of the book. His bright colors and super-sized illustrations pop. Another testament to Collier’s illustrations is the fact that the pictures fit so well with the words. Aspiring illustrators should use this book as a mentor text. I’ve read some things about what Collier tries to do with the balloons in the text. Keep your eye on how the balloons function in the text.
The book almost sings the words. Readers can feel the important message about the power of music at the core of this book. Andrews creates such energy within his language. With its long narrative passages (unlike most contemporary children’s books that have such few words), Trombone Shorty gives readers time to become invested in Trombone Shorty’s story of adversity and perseverance (It reminds me of the ideas in Miller’s The Quickest Kid in Clarksville).
It’s about being the best even when you don’t have the best. One of the most inspirational aspects of Trombone Shorty’s story is that he made his instruments before he ever had a real instrument. The ingenuity is inspirational, and the Author’s Note explains how music – however created – was what got him to where he is today.
Obviously, the book is a wonderful tribute to the city of New Orleans. “We have our won way of living down here in New Orleans,” Andrews writes. And he gives readers a lot of the New Orleans essence in the book.
And it’s a sibling book. I love that Andrews gives a big shout-out to his brother. And I love this about the story.
Even though it’s an autobiography, Trombone Shorty is just as much about the people and creative endeavors that inspire us each day. Andrews sets the stage when he writes, “Because this is a story about music.” And it surely is.
Here are some teaching ideas for using Trombone Shorty in your classroom:
(1) Use when introducing autobiographies. Kids will appreciate the narrative quality that can sometimes be missing in textbook autobiographies. This book can be used in an autobiography text set or as a mentor text for when students write their autobiographies.
(2) Play Trombone Shorty’s music! Bring in some of Trombone Shorty’s music to complement the reading of the book. Ask students to think about how the book’s energetic language and message reflect the music.
(3) Invite students to be creative. As a lead in to a writing assignment in which you are helping students learn about how to create their own pieces based on mentor texts or just as a stand-alone creative assignment (which our kids need more of!), ask students to pick an illustration in the text. Then have them adapt the words and illustration so as to depict a moment in their lives in words and an illustration. We cannot forget the power of drawing – even for our older students.
(4) Encourage students to discuss awards. Ask students to think about why books are awarded the Caldecott or Coretta Scott King Awards. Then have students discuss in what ways Trombone Shorty exhibits (or does not exhibit) qualities of these awards. This exercise, which can be used in K-16 classrooms (yes, even children’s books can be used in secondary and college classrooms), helps students build their analysis skills.
I’m actually having my children’s literature students review award winners this semester. But in addition, I’m going to ask them to select a book that did not receive an award but that they believe should have. I want to continue to build my students’ critical analysis skills.
I would love to hear what you think of Trombone Shorty in the comments below! How do you use Trombone Shorty in your classroom?