by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury Books, 2015
Teens, contemporary fiction
Ages 12 and up
Additional formats: ebook and paperback
Maya and her identical twin sister Nikki live in a Portland, Oregon neighborhood that is being revitalized. Friends they have known for a lifetime are forced to relocate to other neighborhoods. While Nikki loves the new restaurants and coffee shops, Maya sees the history of their community disappearing in a sea of trendiness. Everything is becoming upscale, from the housing and stores to their own school, where Diversity Day now edges out Black History month.
This is a page-turner about two girls growing up and facing both personal and social transitions, including a difficult romance. I think Richmond teens will especially find a lot to think about here as our own city struggles with its identity and how to respect the history of all its citizens.
If there’s one thing a strong girl needs, it’s her voice. And no one of her era had a lovelier voice than Florence Mills, the legendary singer and stage actress of the early 1920s.
In Renée Watson’s picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, we meet Florence in Washington DC, where she was born to formerly enslaved parents. As she grows and plays in school, she discovers the power of her singing voice to take her from her modest Washington DC neighborhood all the way to the grand stages of Europe.
“If my voice can take me around the world, what else can it do?” she wonders.
Lots, as it turns out.
Florence Mills’ impact went beyond entertainment. She refused performances at whites-only establishments, and at her death, she was mourned not only for her talent and beauty but also for her convictions during the Harlem Renaissance.
Christian Robinson’s illustrations are simple and collage-like, infused with the bright colors and cityscapes that Renée Watson calls up in the text.
For me, the book works as history, as biography, and as a doorway into learning about music. But more than anything else, it works as a book about a strong girl who stands up for what she believes MM
Read more about Florence Mills.