Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Children's Literature - Pat Metz
Little Lil, her mama, Big Lil, and her uncle, Sudi Man, all live together with little money but lots of love, laughter, and music from her uncle's saxophone. When big Lil gets sick, the sax is pawned to get money for medicine. Knowing her mom really needs her uncle's music to get better, Lil comes up with a plan. A touching story about giving.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-Little Lil's Uncle Sudi Man is renowned for his saxophone playing in a neighborhood jazz club. When Lil's mother becomes ill, there is no money for medicine. Uncle Sudi Man pawns his sax for the medicine that helps Mama Big Lil's health, but fails to lift her spirits. As Christmas approaches, Little Lil draws a picture that she offers to the pawn broker in exchange for the saxophone. His reluctance to make the trade causes the girl to offer him her precious family ring. "Bless your heart," he says, and gives her back her ring and the instrument, taking Little Lil's drawing and displaying it in his window. The family then has itself a fine, dancing holiday. What is indisputably "swing-singing" in this story is the text. It is written in the vivid language of the storyteller, rich in image, energy, and rhythm. Uncle Sudi Man's horn playing is described as "...angel-sweet, blue-curling notes rising like a prayer." The story invites reading aloud. Cohen's acrylic paintings render the African-American characters in a flat, primitive style, and are bold in both color and line. They are solid, yet full of vitality. Young readers caught up in the lilt of the language and the bounce of the art may be genuinely surprised when the pawn broker is persuaded by Little Lil's sacrifice. An affectionate memory of a time and place when "...we didn't have much money but we had a lot of love and we laughed more than we cried."-Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Little Lil lives with her mother, Mama Big Lil, and her "fat- cheeked, curly-haired, horn-blowing Uncle Sudi Man." They are poor, but they love each other, and they laugh more than they cry. They also have Uncle Sudi Man's low-moaning sax, which blows pleasure into people's lives. When Mama Big Lil gives Little Lil a ring with a blue stonea family heirloomlife can't get much better. Instead, it gets bad: Mama Big Lil is sick, and Uncle Sudi Man pawns his sax for the medicine money. Little Lil, however, knows that no amount of medicine will return the sparkle to Mama Big Lil's eyes the way that "swing-singing" sax could, so she trades her ring at the pawn shop and brings music back into their lives.
Gray (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart, 1995, etc.) sparks warmth that fairly radiates off the page, testifying to the healing powers of music and to the hidden power of love and generosity. She charges the narrative with a hip-hop beat: "So on a snow-swirling day with neon lights far below us blink blink blinking like an upside-down, cold electric sky, Mama Big Lil and I danced on that flat, black rooftop." Newcomer Cohen's illustrations are bright, bold concoctions, as flat and stylized as poster art, full of visual energy as they snap and sizzle along with the story.