The Bookworm: Music, clothes and inspiration

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton”

By Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Faxzlalizadeh

c. 2018, Chronicle Books

$17.99, $24.99 Canada; 48 pages

Oopsy-daisy. That’s what Grandma might say when you’re tumbling around and your head holds your feet up. The world sure looks different when your toes are on top and you’re looking at things from upside down, and in the new book “Libba” by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, that’s not the only thing that’s all out of order.

Music was everywhere, for Libba Cotton. When she fetched water for her mother and brother, she heard river music. The axe she used to chop wood sang to her. There was a clickety-clack of music in the trains as they sped by on two tracks.

“Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotton” by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Faxzlalizadeh.

Libba “heard music everywhere” and she longed to make it herself but her brother didn’t like anyone touching his guitar. Even so, whenever he wasn’t home, Libba went to his room, took up the instrument, and played – even though she was left-handed, and had to do it upside down and backwards. To anybody else, that would have been weird but to Libba, “it was the way that felt right … ”

Her brother, Claude, hated that Libba borrowed his guitar but “dang!” she was good. She could play well, and she even wrote songs. That’s how it was, until Claude moved away and took his guitar with him. Libba did chores and saved money until she was able to have a guitar of her own.

And she played. Upside down and backward, until time passed and she stopped.

Years later, when Libba was much older, she met a woman from a “musical family” who hired her to work as a housekeeper at a home that was filled with music! There were “banjos in the bedrooms, pianos in the parlor, and bass drums in the basement.” All day and all night, musicians drifted in and out, men with names like Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie, and Libba started hearing music again.

Then one day, when nobody was paying any attention and nobody would care about how she strummed, Libba borrowed a guitar. And she played music.

Upside down. And backwards.

Before you snuggle up with your child for an inaugural round of “Libba,” take a few minutes to read the book yourself, so you’re fully prepared for what you’ll see.

Oh, that artwork! Through Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s charcoal drawings, musician Elizabeth Cotton’s story is told so exquisitely that it may render you almost speechless. Chances are, your child might not notice but you will. Be prepared.

What your child will find here is a story of keeping a dream alive, even when it’s been shelved for a long time. In telling this tale, Laura Veirs’s words dance like fingers on frets as she lends lightness to the story, despite its Depression-era theme. Be sure to read her Author’s Note, which explains much more about Cotton and her work.

If yours is a musical family or if your child does things a little different, then this is a story you’ll want to read again and again. For you, for sure, “Libba” is a book that holds up.

“The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?”

By Brittany Gibbons

c. 2017, Dey Street

$16.99, $21 Canada; 231 pages

Take a deep breath. Go ahead, suck it in. The jeans might fit that way, although you’ll still have a muffin top, guaranteed. You can say you’re bloated. You can say you’re full. Or, says Brittany Gibbons in her new book “The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?” you can own the word “fat” and it’s okay.

She’s said it before. She’s written about it, she’s blogged on it, and there’s no changing it: Brittany Gibbons is plus-size. And she’s gorgeous, which is something she doesn’t always feel, even as a fashion blogger and sometime-model. Part of the reason is that one-size-fits-all, doesn’t. Another part of the reason is because there are times when nothing feels right on her body.

“The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?” by Brittany Gibbons.

Not so long ago, plus-size clothes, with floral prints and polyester pants, were geared toward great-grandmas. On that, Gibbons’ mother was a seamstress, so Gibbons had the advantage of customization; still, knowing the problem well, Gibbons quietly showed plus-size peers to the men’s department at her first “cool” job at a clothing store. There, big girls found generous cuts that fit. The lesson, she says, is to buy clothes for comfort, and ignore size tags.

Truthfully, you’re the only one who’ll see them anyhow.

It’s a problem that men don’t have. Gibbons says her husband wears the same pants size, no matter where he gets his jeans; she has “fifty-eight pairs of denim in my closet” because women’s sizes are all over the place. That’s when the words she heard repeatedly while growing up in Toledo, Ohio, still resonate: “If it doesn’t fit, just take it off” and find something that does.

 “The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?” author Brittany Gibbons.

So wear the swimsuit. Get that Brazilian wax. Remember that we’re all human and we all have bodies. Let your children see the tummy that grew them and arms that held them. Notice that nobody’s noticing because nobody cares. And if you want to make sure your daughter loves her strong, healthy body, show her that you love yours … 

Your arms jiggle. Your bra could double as a hammock. The jeans you wore B.C. (Before Children) wouldn’t fit in a million years. And once you’ve read “The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?” none of that will matter much.

Indeed, author Brittany Gibbons speaks the truth on the subject of fat, and she’s made it her mission to repeat this: “there is nothing wrong with your body…” Here, she explains the long journey she took to get to that point of acceptance and it’s LOL funny, righteous, thought-provoking and, oops, surprisingly TMI. It’s that last one that may give some readers pause; it’s fun to have that girl’s-night-out-with-wine feeling, but there are details in here that are cringe-worthy for many people.

Now warned, you won’t find those parts out of place, however, and they boost the overall confident message in this book. If you love who you are, or if you need to learn how, find “The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat)?”  For those who are fluffy, it’s a breath of fresh air.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.