Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Laura Veirs
Illustrator:  Tatyana Fazlalizadeh 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2018   ISBN: 978-1452148571

Libba Cotton has music running all the way through her. Everywhere she goes she hears music. Even the sound of the freight trains clattering down the tracks near her house is musical to her ears.

Libba’s brother has a guitar, which she is not allowed to play. However, when he goes to work Libba sneaks into his room and plays the guitar, even though she has to play it “upside down” and “backwards” because she is left-handed. This is certainly a strange way to play a guitar, but Libba does not care. Somehow this unusual way of playing works for her and she is able to create music.

After Libba’s brother leaves home, taking his guitar with him, Libba starts to save up to buy a guitar of her own. Earning seventy-five cents a month Libba saves and saves until she has enough to buy a Stella guitar. How Libba plays that guitar! It becomes an extension of her arm and she still plays it backwards and upside down because she is left-handed and the guitar was built for a right handed player. When she is only thirteen Libba writes her first song. It is called Freight Train.

Then life gets busy and Libba stops playing the guitar because there were too many other things that needed to be done. Libba never guesses that one day, when she is a grandmother, music will come back into her life and it will change her future in the most wonderful ways.

In this beautifully written and very moving book Laura Veirs, who is herself an accomplished guitar player, performer, and songwriter, tells the story of an extraordinary woman who was a self-taught and very gifted musician. Libba’s song Freight Train is known by musicians and music lovers all over the world, and it was a firm favorite in Laura’s childhood home.

In addition to the main story, Laura provides her readers with further information about Libba at the back of the book in an author’s note. She also tells us how she became get interested in Libba’s remarkable story.