cover image Little Lil and the Swing-Singing Sax

Little Lil and the Swing-Singing Sax

Libba Moore Gray, Lisa Cohen. Jump at the Sun, $15 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80681-0

In this optimistic tale of family unity, Gray (the late author of Dear Willie Rudd) uses poetic, almost free-form prose to evoke the music of the Jazz Age. Her title character recalls that era with a story of her mother and saxophonist uncle. ""Uncle Sudi Man lived with me and my mama, his sister, and everybody called her Big Lil and they called me Little Lil and we didn't have much money but we had a lot of love and we laughed more than we cried,"" the girl explains. When Big Lil gets sick, Sudi, ""sighing like a slow-leaking tire,"" pawns his cherished saxophone to pay for her medicine. Mirroring Sudi's gesture, Little Lil goes at Christmastime to trade an heirloom for the sax. Lil's generosity is rewarded; the owner of this highly unusual pawn shop remembers that Christmas is about giving. While Gray follows a feel-good formula, the historical urban setting and original, credible narrative voice boost this offering past mere sentimentality. Debut illustrator Cohen's highly stylized acrylics feature heavy black outlines and solid hues; the characters and their surroundings are pressed into the paintings as if into a modern stained glass window. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)