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If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong

Overview

Roxane Orgill’s vivid words and Leonard Jenkins’s dramatic pictures combine to tell the story of a boy who grew up to be a giant of jazz—the legendary and beloved Louis Armstrong. As a poor boy in New Orleans, where music was everywhere—dancing out of doorways, singing on street corners, crying from the cornet of the great Joe Oliver for all to hear—Louis longed for a horn so that he too could sing, bring home pennies, and, most of all, tap happy-feet blues till the sun rose. It wasn’t going to be easy. Many ...

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Overview

Roxane Orgill’s vivid words and Leonard Jenkins’s dramatic pictures combine to tell the story of a boy who grew up to be a giant of jazz—the legendary and beloved Louis Armstrong. As a poor boy in New Orleans, where music was everywhere—dancing out of doorways, singing on street corners, crying from the cornet of the great Joe Oliver for all to hear—Louis longed for a horn so that he too could sing, bring home pennies, and, most of all, tap happy-feet blues till the sun rose. It wasn’t going to be easy. Many things, not all of them good, had to happen before he got his horn. But when at last he did, he sent music spiraling up into the New Orleans night sky like a spinning top gone crazy.

Relates how the famous jazz trumpeter began his musical career, as a poor boy in New Orleans, by singing songs on street corners and playing a battered cornet in a marching band.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Orgill tells the story of a boy overcoming incredible odds to achieve his dream, without becoming too dark, maudlin or even overly hopeful, and Jenkins's dark palette looks the way jazz sounds." Publishers Weekly, Starred
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Orgill, in her first book for children, culls details from biographies, autobiographies and unpublished archival writings to chronicle young Louis's love of music in words that sing.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.)
Publishers Weekly
Orgill tells the story of a boy overcoming incredible odds to achieve his dream, without becoming too dark, maudlin or even overly hopeful, and Jenkins's dark palette looks the way jazz sounds. Ages 5-8. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Roxann Orgill has written a fine picture book about Louis Armstrong. Poverty was the way of life on Perdido Street, but for Louis it was the music that sustained him. He and his friends sang and beat out tunes to earn a few pennies. They called him "Dippermouth," a name that stuck. When he accidentally shoots off a gun, he is sent to the Colored Waif's Home. The best thing about this experience was that there was a band director who spotted Louis's talent. When he finally gets a cornet, his joy is complete. He can play like his hero Joe Oliver. Strong, evocative paintings create the atmosphere of New Orleans, circa 1910. Tip: You also must play Armstrong's music, or this story will fall on deaf ears.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
As a poor child in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong dreamed of owning a horn and making wonderful music that would provide financial support for his family. His inspiration was Joe "King" Oliver, a cornet player in a nearby jazz club. While enjoying the music and festivities of the New Year's Eve celebration, young Louis fired shots into the air from a gun he had found in his mother's trunk. He was arrested and sent to the Colored Waifs' Home where he missed the jazz heard in his old neighborhood. One day he heard a band playing, and he told the band teacher he wanted to join. Mr. Davis told him there was no need for any new players. After his chores, Louis would go and listen to the band practicing and soon learned every part. At long last, at dinner one evening, Mr. Davis asked Louis if he would like to join the band. Louis was ecstatic! The rest, as they say, is history. You will want to listen to a Louis Armstrong recording as you read this picture book biography. Orgill has drawn on autobiographies, biographies, and Armstrong's unpublished writings to compose this fluid account of Armstrong's first horn. The childhood of this influential and personable musician is captured in both the text and the acrylic and pastel illustrations.
Children's Literature
This is a short but interesting book about young Louis Armstrong and how he grew up to become a musician. This book describes how he lived with his mother, Mayann, and his younger sister, "Mama Lucy." Louis was sent to a small, boarding school where he learned how to play music. At the end of the school year, his teacher presented him with a tattered, old cornet. He came home singing and playing his horn, filling his cap with pennies and even dollars. Louis grew up to be a famous musician. Leonard Jenkins's artwork is beautiful and helps to bring the story to life! This story is mainly for people who love music or enjoy reading books about musicians. The author got her idea from two earlier books, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and Swing That Music, autobiographies written by Louis Armstrong. 2002 (orig. 1997), Houghton Mifflin Company,
— Wesley Ellen Gregory
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5According to an author's note, many stories exist about the esteemed Louis Armstrong, especially in regard to his first encounters with a trumpet. To tell a story that is as "true as possible" to Armstrong's character, Orgill has sifted through his autobiographies and through various biographies to fashion this musically charged tale. Young Louis's love of song and dance is well known in the streets of New Orleans, but his exuberance gets the best of him one wild New Year's Eve, and after shooting an old .38 into the air, he finds himself in the Colored Waifs' Home. There, a Mr. Davis takes an interest; he makes the boy learn rhythm on a drum and practice "mellow tones" on an old bugle before giving him a cornetbut finally, Louis's dream comes true. As the story ends, Louis leads a band down Liberty street and, as we know, marches into musical history. A more hardened tale than Alan Schroeder and Floyd Cooper's admittedly "fictional re-creation" Satchmo's Blues (Doubleday, 1996), this account is probably closer to the truth. Using the two books together, however, could give teachers a great platform for discussing truth in biography. In tune with the text, Jenkins peoples the story with a rich array of faces and backs the characters with montages of swirling colors in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint to create a setting that pulses with the sounds of jazz.Barbara Elleman, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Kirkus Reviews
Less prettified than Alan Schroeder's recent Satchmo's Blues (1996), the story of how Louis Armstrong got his first horn. As Orgill tells it in her first book for children, Armstrong himself gave conflicting accounts of how he came by his first horn; here, his first instrument was actually a bugle that he played in reform school, where he was sent after being arrested for shooting a .38 in the street on New Year's Eve. Later the school's band director entrusted him with a battered cornet, and Louis went on to lead the band in a triumphant parade through his old New Orleans neighborhood. The dark, edgy, mixed-media paintings, with lurid yellow highlights, give an almost palpable sense of the rough poverty and swirling nightlife of Armstrong's early environment. It's not a book that can stand on its own; readers will need to have this fragment of Armstrong's life put into context in order to understand where sheer talent, determination, and luck eventually brought him. Orgill's telling has immediacy, however, and it has moments (e.g., when Louis snags himself a nickname) that are electric.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618250769
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 971,280
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.06 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Roxane Orgill is a full-time freelance journalist and a long-time writer on music. A recipient of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for writing on music, she received her Masters in Music from the University of London King's College. Ms. Orgill lives in Mt. Vernon, New York, with her husband and daughter. This is her first book for children.
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