Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Roxanne Orgill/Sean Qualls

Ummm hmm. Ella’s voice is one of my all time favorites. What I like about this picture book is that it tells the story of her early life, when she was just a Raggedy Cat trying to survive.

Ella had a larger than life personality ever since she was a young girl. Growing up in Yonkers, NY, her family didn’t have much but they had plenty of music.  Her voice could draw a crowd. She and her friend Charlie learned the newest moves and made a little change on the sidewalks dancing for crowds. It was a time of Jazz Jazz Jazz. Her mother passed away suddenly and she ended up on 145th Street in Harlem, living with her aunt. She didn’t get much love there so she searched for something better, on her own.

Ella’s 1938 chart0topper “A Tisket A Tasket” which was included in a movie called Ride ‘Em Cowboy in 1942. Oh look she’s at the back of the bus!  >_<

She got into some trouble and found herself in a school for orphans. They beat the girls, especially the black girls, so she ran away, back to Harlem. She was on the streets and in and out of people’s homes but one day she heard about auditioning at the Apollo Theater and decided to give it a try. The crowd almost ran her off the stage but the emcee gave her another chance and she blew them away! Ella started to make a name for herself. Despite her plain looks, bandleader Chick Webb gave her a chance to join his band at the Savoy. Ella’s spirit shone through her voice, loud and clear. People loved dancing to her. The band got their first big hit when she wrote “A Tisket, A Tasket.” With that song she shot to stardom and didn’t have to worry about food, lack of nice clothes and a place to sleep ever again!

I like Sean Qualls’ art style. He likes to lay his acrylic down a little rough and scratchy and uses a palette of reds, oranges, blues and browns. I love the jazz scenes that show the vibrance of Harlem at its artistic peak. Author Roxane Orgill and Sean Qualls really did an excellent job of pairing story with illustration; when I finished the book, I felt satisfied. I learned so much about young Ella and her spirit.

If you’re looking for an excellent biography that celebrates never giving up despite the odds, check out Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat…and go listen to some jazz!

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for:  Jazz, Jazz Bands, Music History, History, African-American, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Inner Strength, Family, Determination, Discrimination, Jim Crow, Apollo Theater, Harlem, Dance, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill/Illustrated by Sean Qualls, 2010 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763617332

Wilma Unlimited

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Image Credit: Harcourt Brace & Company, Kathleen Krull/David Diaz

I love to watch track. I was lucky enough to see Usain Bolt in my town of Daegu, South Korea a few years ago. Whew! The speed and athleticism. Wilma Rudolph is an inspiration not only because of her athletic accomplishments but also for the hurdles she had to cross in her life to achieve greatness.

Born the twentieth child in her family, she was small and sickly though full of energy. Her family gave her love but there wasn’t much they could do when she was stricken with polio around age five. On top of her physical ailments, she was a black girl in segregated Clarksville, Tennessee. There was only one doctor in town who treated blacks and he was fifty miles away! Despite her struggles, Wilma was extremely determined and even while wearing braces on her legs, she worked on her strength. One day at church, she stood up without her braces, walking confidently down the aisle.

Wilma’s 100m dash win at the 1960s Rome Olympics. Woooo!

From then on, she was off! She got stronger and stronger and played basketball in high school. Though she was a skilled basketball player, she was scouted for track-and-field and got a full ride to Tennessee State University. In 1960, she headed to Rome for the Summer Olympics. This powerful woman left her competitors in the dust (with a twisted ankle!) and 3 gold medals later, she was the fastest woman in the world!! ❤

The illustrations of Wilma Unlimited are beautiful. They’re a mix of acrylic, gouache and watercolor with spreads that use photographs for backgrounds. I love this effect. The page where Wilma and her mother triumphantly wrap her steel brace in a box to send back to the hospital is surrounded by a photograph of a cardboard box marked “fragile.” Diaz’ style is wonderful. His human figures have long bodies, wide eyes, strong noses, large hands and remind me of Greek figures on ancient vases.

Have a young runner? A child with boundless energy? Check out this beautiful biography about one of our greatest athletes!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Segregation, African-American, Inner Strength, Determination, Polio, Sports, Track and Field, Fastest Woman in the World, Olympics, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Faith, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull/Illustrated by David Diaz, 1996 Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN: 9780152012670

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

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Image Credit: Lee and Low Books Inc., Katheryn Russell-Brown/Frank Morrison

 

A little girl picked up a big instrument and made a big sound that would rock the jazz world.

In recent years, there’s been a surge in excellent music biographies about women; I’ve already reviewed great books about Leontyne Price and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. What attracted me to this biography of Melba Doretta Liston is that she is a Black female musician. Sure history remembers and celebrates many great Black female singers but musicians? Not really. I’d never heard of this woman until this book. Jazz fans, is she well known? I certainly hope so…

Melba Doretta Liston grew up with music in her blood and luckily she lived in the thriving, jazz town of Kansas City in the 20s when it was a mecca of #BlackCreativity. Like Millo and Leontyne, she dreamed and lived music and when she was seven years old, her mama bought her a shiny new trombone. Her grandpa helped build her confidence and skill and in no time, she was blowing and making waves on the radio. Her family moved to LA and Melba continued to shine. She began touring the country with a band in the 40s, arranging music and throwing down. Her sound and skill was glorious. Unfortunately she and her band faced segregation and racism on their trips down South but Melba didn’t let that stop her. She’d continue to make music for years to come, touring the world, writing music and being true to her craft.

Morrison’s art is so dynamic. Limber bodies sway to the beat, round smiling brown cheeks, energetic musicians and Melba, the star, takes full control of that huge yellow trombone. His oil paintings embody jazz. Be sure to check out this awesome biography; Melba is someone to know and remember.

P.S. What a great cover, right? 😉 She’s sttrreeettchhing from edge to edge.

Recommended for: All Ages, especially 1st grade and up
Great for: Girl Power, Diversity, Music, Music History, Girls in Music, We Need Diverse Books, Determination, Family, Jazz, Dreams, Segregation, Community, Biography, African-American, BlackGirlsRock, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2014 Lee and Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600608988

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century

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Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC), Carole Boston Weatherford/Raul Colón

 

Opera. Amazing Voice. Black Woman. World Domination. 😉

Carole Boston Weatherford’s latest biography book tells the story of the talented opera singer, Leontyne Price who started in the segregated South of Laurel, Mississippi and rose to stages around the world. As a young girl, Leontyne’s parents, knowing she’d grow up in a segregated world, encouraged her talent and made sure she knew she was loved and important!

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Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC), Carole Boston Weatherford/Raul Colón

Music came naturally to Leontyne and Marian Anderson was her inspiration. After she studied voice in college, she began on Broadway and would later dominate the opera stage. She was the first black singer to star at La Scala in Italy and would continue to enchant and inspire people, especially people of color, around the world with her long and impressive career.

This picture book is well written. Weatherford’s voice is strong and she knows how to tell a story with style; “Leontyne was in the church choir, praising God with her gift. A song of promise welled up in Leontyne, as it had in young Marian.” I love it. Raul Colón…what a boss. He’s one of my favorites because his illustrations are always FIRE. He uses watercolor, colored pencils and warm colors. His signature scratch technique is on every page and whenever he depicts music, he uses a rainbow swirl of color that envelops Leontyne. The colorful music is a part of her.

If you’re looking for an excellent new biography book about an often overlooked but well respected Black woman, check this one out! It’s pretty special.

Recommended for: 1st-2nd grade and up
Great for: Diversity, Music, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Inspiration, Opera, We Need Diverse Books, African American, Family, Girl Power, History, Segregation, BlackGirlsRock, Biography
Book Info: Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Raul Colón, 2014 Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books (Random House LLC)), ISBN: 9780375856068