Review: Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson

harlems little blackbird

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This is a picture book biography of Florence Mills, a singer well-known during the Harlem Renaissance.  It follows her from her childhood as the daughter of former slaves in a tiny house in Washington, DC. where she was always singing and dancing.  She became known as a small girl with a big voice, but often faced racism and segregation when she was performing.  She quickly learned to use her voice for activism as well as song.  Florence became known not only across the nation but around the world for her voice.  She traveled internationally, and continued to be an activist and to give back to the poor.  Applauded for her singing, this book celebrates her good deeds just as much as her voice.

Watson writes a compelling story of a woman who was more than a beautiful songbird.  She fought back against the bigotry of her time and also gave back to the community she came from.  Watson distills Mills’ story into one that children can easily relate to.  It exposes the overt racism of a previous time and will give children much to discuss about how far our society has come and how much farther we have to go.

Robinson’s illustrations are done in cut-paper and collage.  They have a great texture to them, often showing a physical depth that is very appealing.  The colors are bright and vibrant, fitting colors for this equally vibrant woman.

A very successful picture book biography of a woman whose voice broke down barriers along with her good work.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Review: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

demon catchers of milan

The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

Mia’s life is turned upside down when she is possessed by a demon.  She terrorizes her family, throws them across the room, and destroys their home.  Priests try to exorcize the demon, but nothing works until her relatives from Italy arrive and force the demon to flee.  Mia has to return to Milan with them so that she can be protected from future attacks by the demon.  Once there, she is kept inside most of the time unless several of her family are available to escort her outdoors.  Even with their protection, the demon tries to attack her often.  Mia begins to learn Italian, the history of her family, and the strange arts that they practice.  Soon she feels very at home in Milan, but will there ever be a time that she is truly safe there?

Beyer’s book is very well-written.  It has a style that celebrates the historical in Milan, the beauty of the Italian language, and the strength of a close-knit family.  The perspective of Mia is crucial to this, allowing readers a way to see Milan for the first time through her eyes.  Add in the exorcisms and demons, and you have a book that is a dazzling addition to teen lit.

The setting of Milan is as much a part of the story as Mia’s extended family.  It is Italy that is celebrated here.  At the same time though, Mia’s extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins are each written as unique and intriguing characters.  Some are imposing, others motherly, but they all surprise and delight. 

The opening scene of the book with Mia’s possession is written so vividly and with such strength that you know that you are in for a unique and fascinating read.  Happily that stunning opening continues through the entire book.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Egmont.