STARRED REVIEW
November 28, 2017

Lifting her voice

By Alice Brière-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance

A mother sings her restless child to sleep, offering up a story from her own childhood to help ease the transition to bedtime. The mother is Nina Simone, talking about her own girlhood and the discrimination she faced as she came into her own and discovered her love of music.

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A mother sings her restless child to sleep, offering up a story from her own childhood to help ease the transition to bedtime. The mother is Nina Simone, talking about her own girlhood and the discrimination she faced as she came into her own and discovered her love of music.

The adult Nina, looking back, remembers a church performance at the age of 23, during which her proud mother was asked by white people to remove herself from the front row where she planned to watch her daughter perform. Author Alice Brière-Haquet uses a set of piano keys as a metaphor for the racial injustices of the time: “Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge ivory keyboard.” Later, the adult Nina tells her own child that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial harmony helped turn the tide. Here, illustrator Bruno Liance brings readers black and white protesters with signs; young Nina herself holds one that reads, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” referencing her 1970 song that became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

Liance’s illustrations—soft-focus and hazy, just as memories are wont to be—are in black-and-white, matching the author’s sentiment: “Music has no color.” There are moments of great drama on several spreads. More than one features lush trees or flowers bursting forth in unexpected places (from a piano, from the bed of the child Nina is lulling to sleep). One features a lineup of white composers (Mozart, Liszt and the like), followed by young Nina, the only black person pictured, who “played all the important men in powdered wigs from past centuries.” A couple of spreads show a defiant Nina, pushing down her anger to sing to her dismissed mother in the crowd.

Stirring and powerful, the book can be an effective conversation starter with children about racial injustice.

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

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Nina

Nina

By Alice Brière-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance
Charlesbridge
ISBN 9781580898270

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