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Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Last updated Thursday, May 28, 2020

Author: Katheryn Russell-Brown
Date of Publication:
ISBN: 1600608981
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Mar. 2018

Synopsis: Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family's Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba's extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century.

Note to readers:
•  There is a paragraph about mid-century race relations in the beginning of the story. You might want to review this part and discuss with your reading partner ahead of time.
•  There is a lot of jazz terminology and onomonopeia (the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to) that you can have fun with.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Have you ever played an instrument?
•  Have you heard of jazz music?
•  What's your favorite kind of music?


•  harmonizing - combining musical sounds considered pleasing to the ear.
•  gig - A job, especially a booking for musicians.
•  gospel - impassioned rhythmic spiritual music influential in the development of soul music and rhythm and blues.
•  kinfolk - relatives, kindred.
•  keen - Acutely sensitive: a keen ear.
•  mesmerized - To spellbind; enthrall.

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Why was Melba Liston so unique?
•  Do you know the difference between a trombone and a trumpet?

Craft ideas:
•  Make paper plate tambourines or paper bag maracas.
•  Make craft stick harmonicas.
•  Check our craft ideas on Pinterest!

Special activities:
•  Have a dance party and make the sounds of the different instruments in the book.
•  Play a Melba Liston song (available on Youtube and Spotify).

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don't have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!