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Review of Little Melba and 
Her Big Trombone

russell-brown_little melbaLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown; 
illus. by Frank Morrison
Primary    Lee & Low    40 pp.
7/14    978-1-60060-898-8    $18.95    g

From the time she was a little girl, Melba Liston loved music, especially the jazz music that surrounded her while she was growing up, first in Kansas City and then in Los Angeles. Given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument at age seven, she chose the trombone. It was not a traditional choice for a girl, especially a small girl whose arms weren’t even long enough yet to push out the slide. But Melba wasn’t a traditional girl. She persisted, and with the support of her family and her teachers, she excelled. By age seventeen, she was ready to tour as a member of jazz trumpeter Gerald Wilson’s new band. She played with the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, and was almost always the only woman in the band (except on her tour with Billie Holiday). As a woman, she faced as many barriers and challenges as she did as an African American musician traveling through the mid-twentieth-century South. But Melba was highly sought out, as a band member, session musician, composer, and arranger. Russell-Brown’s account of her subject’s early life is as smooth and stimulating as a Liston trombone solo, and will leave readers wanting to know more about the woman and her music. Morrison’s oil paintings, in his trademark elongated, angular style, perfectly convey the jazz scene and, of course, Melba’s amazing horn.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Kathleen T. Horning About Kathleen T. Horning

Kathleen T. Horning is the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books and teaches a popular online course for ALSC on the history of the Newbery and Caldecott medals.



  1. Beautifully written review of a book I have not yet seen. But after reading this I will do more than see it – in fact I must have a copy pronto! 🙂 Like many others I adore the subject, As I recall we did have one Caldecott Honor winner with some similarities – the dazzling BEN’S TRUMPET by Rachel Isadora, and this year I really liked the striking and colorful alphabet book J IS FOR JAZZ by Ann Ingalls and Maria Corte Maidagan. But the story you chronicle here is remarkable and the sociological context inspiring. Greatly looking forward to seeing Morrison’s art. The cover is a real stunner! 🙂

  2. Post-script on my first comment: I took the book out on loan from my neighboring Cliffside Park, New Jersey library this afternoon (they are happily open on Sundays) and was simply blown away by Morrison’s art ( and Ms. Brown’s prose). As I stated on the previous comment, the cover is a knock-out but there is much more. This is absolutely one of the most distinguished picture books of the year, and I just ordered it from Amazon. Just fantastic!

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