Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince

by Alliah L Agostini (Author) Shamar Knight-Justice (Illustrator)

Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

An exuberant picture book written by Alliah L. Agostini and illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice is about a Black boy with big dancing dreams who learns the meaning of courage and community.

It's the weekend, first in June;

speaker's blasting out big tune!

Cousins, aunties, uncles, friends pack the house,

and fun begins.

Shane is shy but loves to dance--and all year long, he's picked up cans to earn some money toward his goal: high-tops with a pump-up sole. But then the speaker blows--it's done! Will this stop his family's fun? Can Shane come through to save the day and bring back Big Tune Saturday?

Set within a vibrant Caribbean American neighborhood and told to a rhythmic beat, Big Tune is a story of Black boy joy that touches on determination, confidence to express who you are, selflessness, and community gratitude.

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Kirkus Reviews

An exuberant celebration of community that leaps off the page.

Publishers Weekly

Portrayals of diasporic Caribbean culture and a child's selflessness distinguish Agostini's 1990s Brooklyn-set story celebrating connection and community. As "cousins, aunties, uncles, friends/ pack the house, and fun begins," young Shane, teased by his brothers for shyness, dreams of being crowned dancehall king like their father--an honor reserved for those with the best moves. Feeling pressure, Shane practices only in secret, saving money earned by collecting cans to buy a new pair of kicks that he's sure will rocket him to the top. But when a speaker breaks and the bashment is canceled, Shane puts his own plans on hold to save "Big Tune Saturday"--an act that's amply rewarded. Agostini's buoyant rhyming verse pulses with details, and Knight-Justice's stylized illustrations layer bold patterns and textures with typewritten text, sheet music, and images of the Jamaican flag, building a joyfully immersive portrait of neighborhood gatherings where "Swaying hips wine fast and slow./ Brown skin shines with black light's glow." An author's note concludes. Ages 3-6. (Mar.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 3--A celebration of Jamaican culture, from the drinks to the food and the dances. On the first weekend in June, Shane's family and friends gather for a party. Shane collects cans in exchange for money so he can save up for a new pair of sneakers, high tops with a pump-up sole. He's too shy to dance in front of others; when he's alone, he can dance and sing all night. Shane imagines the dance moves he'd do and how the crowd would cheer for him. When the speakers for the party break, everyone's sad the party is canceled. Luckily, Shane is there to save the day. The author's note provides additional context about the music and dances featured throughout. The up-tempo rhyme scheme of the lines resembles a song much like the ones Shane enjoys. The picture book stresses the importance of community and selflessness, essential lessons for a picture book audience. Distinctive and vibrant collage-style illustrations depict a Black community of various skin tones and hair textures. VERDICT This unique picture book's celebration of Jamaican culture and community is a great addition to every library.--Myiesha Speight

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

The vibrant beat of the rhyming text makes a splendid complement to the energetic art. Rich textures evocative of cutpaper collage and dynamic patterns give enthusiastic life to the more geometric backgrounds, and figures are always in movement, with poses swinging, swaying, and bopping. —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Alliah L Agostini

Alliah L. Agostini grew up an avid reader in a cross-cultural African-American and Guyanese household in Buffalo, NY. After pursuing a career marketing everything from beauty and personal care to home decor, motherhood helped her return to her first love: children's literature.

Now an author and speaker, Alliah has spoken at schools, libraries, corporations, and on several podcasts. She is also the author of the acclaimed The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States. Alliah and her work have been highlighted on the TODAY Show, CNN,, Good Housekeeping, and more.

Alliah writes to spread joy, truth, and to help more children see themselves reflected on the page. She and her family live in the suburbs of New York City, where she enjoys impromptu dance parties, museum hopping, and summer festival season. Big Tune is her debut fiction picture book.

Shamar Knight-Justice is an illustrator based in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up with a crayon in his hand and a love for patterns. He currently serves as the principal of an elementary school in Southwest Atlanta, where his scholars' stories and personalities inspire him to create illustrations that honor their identities. When not drawing, Shamar loves to spend time hoarding collage materials, going on long walks with his family, and devouring the nearest pancake.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Publication date
March 28, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV031040 - Juvenile Fiction | Performing Arts | Music
JUV030040 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Caribbean & Latin America
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
Stories in rhyme
Family life
Jamaican Americans
Children, Black
Dancehall (Music)

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