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Lesa Cline-Ransome

and James E. Ransome

The Ransomes talk about their latest collaboration, Just a Lucky So and So, a joyful tribute to the virtuoso musician Louis Armstrong.

Lesa and James, please tell us about your new book, JUST A LUCKY SO AND SO: The Story of Louis Armstrong.

James: For as long as I can remember I have always liked jazz. But once I watched the Ken Burns documentary on jazz, I became an enthusiastic fan, beginning each day in my studio listening to my favorite jazz station. In the documentary I discovered Louis Armstrong’s major influence not only on jazz but on all American music. From that point on I wanted to do a book on Mr. Armstrong. The book that Lesa wrote on his early beginnings, his mentors and the beginning of his career was the perfect format for my illustrations.

Lesa: Just a Lucky So and So is the story of young Louis Armstrong, the struggles he faced as a young boy growing up in New Orleans and how, through the love and support of family and his mentor Joe Oliver, he found his way and forever changed the world of music.

You’ve collaborated on many picture books that are non-fiction or historical fiction. What makes you decide what to write or illustrate about next? Why did you want to tell a story about Louis Armstrong specifically?

James: Louis Armstrong was one of the first African Americans to have crossover appeal at a time when this country was heavily segregated. He was not only a singer, a bandleader, film star and comedian. But first he was a trumpet player with an amazing strength and a soloist responsible for adding a new type of timing, dexterity and soul to American music. Behind all of his gifts was his incredibly humble beginning. Knowing his story should encourage any child to reach for goals in the face of adversity.

Lesa: I often say that I think the stories choose me. I look for stories that I can connect to and I look for characters where I see some small piece of myself. What I most loved about Louis Armstrong’s story was his eternal optimism even in the bleakest of times. He was a person who always considered himself blessed with the close ties of his family and fortunate to have people in his life who offered guidance—from the peddler who gave him his first job to the reform school bandleader to mentor Joe Oliver and the many musicians he admired, imitated and played with.

Tell us a little bit about the research involved for the writing and illustrating of your books?

James: Because of Louis’s popularity there are many adult books and photos available for research. It was especially helpful to find photos of Louis as a child with the band at the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys.

Lesa: I have always been a fan of Louis Armstrong, so I guess the research began many years ago when I began listening to his music. While watching the Ken Burns Jazz documentary, I saw that there were large portions devoted to Louis Armstrong and his influence on the world of jazz. Having written other books about jazz, including Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black and White Jazz Band in History, his name continued to surface in nearly everything I read about jazz musicians.

What do you think Louis Armstrong’s rise from his impoverished upbringing to legendary jazz musician can teach children?

James: His story teaches us to embrace what we most enjoy doing. If you have an interest in science, math, literature or any field, you can always strive to be your best. I also think the importance of having a mentor cannot be overstated. I’ve had several growing up, which really helped me to reach my goals. In Just a Lucky So and So, King Oliver helps to support Louis’s dreams, which in turn benefited the world.

Lesa: His rise from impoverished beginnings demonstrates the power of resilience. The text on the first page reads, “In New Orleans, Louisiana, in a part of town outside Storyville, tucked in a corner called Back O’Town, in a section nicknamed The Battlefield, Little Louis Armstrong was born, black and poor and lucky.” I wanted to communicate that perspective matters. His community may have been poor, but it was rich in love and culture and talent.

What do you hope readers gain from reading JUST A LUCKY SO AND SO?

James: I hope readers gain an appreciation for the many amazing talents of Louis Armstrong and his impact on music.

Lesa: I hope readers gain a deeper understanding of the role of jazz in the history of music and the many talented musicians who devoted their lives to elevating their craft.

What advice would you give to young authors and illustrators?

James: Use Louis as an example and find a mentor and be willing to work hard to achieve your goals.

Lesa: Reading is the most important thing any young author can do. Visit your local library or bookstore and and devour as many books as you can. Reading a variety of authors and genres can help you define your own writing style and develop the skills for creating plot, dialogue and character.

About the Author and Illustrator

Children’s book author Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator James E. Ransome are a wife/husband team. Together they have collaborated on a number of award-winning books, including Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, Satchel Paige and Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. They live in New York’s Hudson Valley with their four children and one St. Bernard.

★★★ Praise for JUST A LUCKY SO AND SO ★★★

“A solid choice for school libraries and collections looking to freshen up biography collections for school-age readers.”—School Library Journal

“Upbeat and celebratory—like Pops himself.”—Kirkus Reviews

Books by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston, Trade Binding
Before She Was Harriet: The Story of Harriet Tubman, Reinforced
Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, Reinforced
Just a Lucky So and So: The Story of Louis Armstrong, Reinforced