cover image If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong

Roxane Orgill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-75919-6

Orgill, in her first book for children, culls details from biographies, autobiographies and unpublished archival writings to chronicle young Louis's love of music in words that sing. She focuses on the gritty New Orleans streets of the early 1900s, where Louis first heard his idol, Joe Oliver, play the horn he coveted, and ""grabbed a piece of the music riding the air, to remember."" On one fateful New Year's Eve, Armstrong shoots an old .38 in the air and lands in the Colored Waifs' Home: ""There was no dream song riding the breeze that night."" But there he would meet the man who gave him his first horn. Orgill tells the story of a boy overcoming incredible odds to achieve his dream, without becoming too dark, maudlin or even overly hopeful. Jenkins's (The Man Who Knew Too Much) dark palette and combination of acrylic, pastel and spray paint look the way jazz sounds, one color melting into the next, but always mindful of an overall vision. He captures both the city's eerie seediness as well as Armstrong's fragile emotions. His sharply realized characters are imposed on deep olive green, blood-red and mustard yellow backgrounds in photographic collages that call to mind the images of Romare Bearden. This vibrant portrait of the jazz great's youth is one children will return to again and again. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)