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Author will make you a fan of nonfiction

As a longtime fan of local author Patricia Hruby Powell, I’m pleased to review her latest book, “Struttin’ with some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz” (Charlesbridge).

One of Powell’s many talents is telling a narrative nonfiction story with bounce and verve. Her language and rhythm pull even the most reluctant reader right into her story. Illustrations by Rachel Himes further enliven the text.

If you know a young reader who thinks they don’t like nonfiction, I suggest you give them “Struttin’.”

So many children’s biographies are about already well-known people. Personally, I love learning about someone I never heard of. Extra points if the subject is female.

I feel like my head was stuffed full to overflowing with accomplished white men growing up, and now I get excited reading about all the people we didn’t hear about in school, people like Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Hardin Armstrong was the rare woman in the music scene: She played piano (rather than sang) in a jazz group — piano was a man’s job; she wrote many popular jazz tunes that jazz musicians still play today; and she managed the career of famous jazz trumpet player Louis Armstrong, to whom she was married.

It is clear after reading “Struttin’” that without Lil, there would be no Louis.

An outstanding musician, Louis Armstrong was not particularly ambitious. It was Hardin Armstrong who assembled jazz bands that showcased her husband’s talents and arranged recording gigs.

In addition to telling Hardin Armstrong’s story, “Struttin’” describes the origins of jazz — “considered by many to be the only original American art form” — and underscores the key role Hardin Armstrong played in those origins.

Powell also addresses race issues. She does so in such a fluid way that, while it is a significant part of the fabric of the story, is does not distract from the reader’s appreciation of the incredible musical talents and gumption of Hardin Armstrong.

If learning about Hardin Armstrong makes you want to know more, feel free to join Powell at her book launch party from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign, where her husband, a jazz trombonist, and others will play some of Hardin Armstrong’s most beloved tunes, including “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.”

Our community is lucky to have some of the most outstanding children’s authors in the country, including Powell. Just this past fall, Janice Harrington (“Catching a Storyfish” for middle grade readers) and Powell (“Loving vs. Virginia” for YA readers) earned the 2018 Arnold Adoff Poetry Honor Award.

Harrington and Powell came in just behind blockbuster authors Nikki Grimes and Jason Reynolds, respectively. These awards are given by Kent State’s Virginia Hamilton Conference, the “longest- running event in the United States to focus exclusively on multi-cultural literature for children and young adults.”

Kudos to Powell and Harrington and to our entire C-U children’s writing community.

Deb Aronson is an Urbanabased author whose nonfiction book about famed racehorse Rachel Alexandra is “a girl-power story on four legs.”

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