Jennie Cashman Wilson: Becoming Brave

Children's guide to dealing with fear and loss was inspired by the author's experience as widow of trumpeter Abram Wilson


Childhood takes bravery. Every day brings unfamiliar situations and activities. Worry and self-doubt are an unavoidable part of the first swimming lesson, first wobbly tooth and first day at school. But fear’s best friend is courage, young readers learn in Becoming Brave. So when fretful Jennie meets plucky Abram, they connect instantly. They fall in love. But then Abram dies. What next for Jennie?

The narrative is inspired by the author’s relationship with trumpeter and vocalist Abram Wilson, who passed away from cancer at the age of just 38 in 2012. Wilson’s album Ride! Ferris Wheel (Dune Records) won the British Jazz Award for Best New CD in 2007, while he was also nominated for the BBC Jazz Awards three times and the MOBO Awards twice. This illustrated storybook focuses on his widow’s journey through fear and grief – and her decision to establish a charity in Wilson’s name to open up opportunities for disadvantaged and minoritised young musicians.

Bereavement is an unusual topic for a children’s book, although the author is careful to emphasise the broader relevance of the narrator’s search for strength in hard times. Exhaustive testing on two age-appropriate readers (unpaid) has confirmed that the book keeps kids securely fixed in place from start to finish. This also reflects debut illustrator Tomekah George’s mercurial drawings. Depictions of young Abram in New Orleans and grown-up Jennie alone in the shadow of grief stand out.

Parents and grandparents will verify that there’s no shortage of books teaching kids to face their fears and follow their dreams these days. But this story carries a little extra punch because it’s true – and visually stunning. Becoming Brave comes from the heart, from the real world and from the jazz world too. If childhood takes bravery, that seems like a good place to look for it.

Becoming Brave, written by Jennie Cashman Wilson and illustrated by Tomekah George. Little Tiger, London. 40 pp, full colour throughout, h/b, £12.99. ISBN 9781838914646.