Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9781534452282)
Told in a similar format to her signature song R-E-S-P-E-C-T, each double-page spread explores another important word in Franklin’s life. The book begins with her family’s move to Detroit and Aretha being raised in the middle of gospel and church. She is incredibly gifted musically, cutting her first gospel record at age 14. She becomes an R&B superstar, rising to the tops of the charts. She supports the civil rights movement with her voice, offering free concerts. She is there to sing President Obama into office. The book ends with plenty of RESPECT for all she has accomplished.
Weatherford’s clever use of single words, spelled out like the song, really forms a strong structure for this picture book. She keeps the book tightly focused and her words to a minimum, allowing the pace of Franklin’s own life and fame to propel the book forward.
The illustrations are gorgeous, the paintings singing with pinks and golds. Morrison uses interesting perspectives in his images, allowing Aretha to be the center of each, showing her changing style and the beauty of her powerful voice.
A fitting tribute for a queen. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman (9781681198507)
Explore the life of one of the greatest singers of all time in this picture book biography of Aretha Franklin. Aretha grew up in a family filled with music and talking. She was a shy little girl, but even from a young age had an incredible singing voice. Her parents left one another when she was a child, and she lived with her father. She adored her time with her mother until her mother died when Aretha was 10. She used music to express her feelings, moving to New York City at age 18. It was the turbulent 1960s where clubs and venues were still segregated for the most part. Aretha made sure to not ever be tricked out of being paid as well as paying attention to venues where everyone was allowed. She was popular but all of her albums flopped until she made some of her most iconic songs and became the Queen of Soul.
Told in a warm and welcoming tone of someone sharing the life story of a beloved family member, this picture book biography captures the way so many people feel about Aretha Franklin and her joyous impact in their lives through her music. The text is accessible and shares the hardships of Franklin’s life and career, displaying her resilience in the face of disappointment as well as her savviness about business and civil rights. The digital art in the book is full of bright and deep colors that pop on the white backgrounds.
A grand picture book biography for the Queen of Soul. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (9780399554704)
This picture book biography features a perfect match-up of author and illustrator. It tells the story of Elvis’ life from a young boy singing in church and in talent shows to him becoming a star. It is the story of a boy growing up poor with a father in jail and discovering many of life’s joys like gospel music and hamburgers. When the family moves to Memphis, Elvis needs to work to make money to keep them housed and fed. As a teenager, he turns himself into something new, coloring his hair black and adding his trademark hair wax. He falls in love, discovers blues music, and decides to be the biggest star in music. The speed of his journey into stardom is incredible, as he gets more inspiration for his unique music style.
Winter writes with a focused poetic style here, each page a short poem about Elvis’ life. Winter captures the poverty that Elvis is born into without romanticizing it at all. His story is particularly captivating because of how quickly he went from being entirely unknown to being a star. Another fascinating piece of the story is how Elvis realized that he needed to move and shake his hips to be able to sing the way he did.
Red Nose Studio has put their signature style in this book, elevating it into something really special that children will love to explore. There are certain page turns that are particularly effective, like the one where in a single turn of the page Elvis emerges with his well-known look. Red Nose completely captures the way that Elvis moves in their clay figures, something entirely remarkable for a still photograph.
A great pick for libraries, I’d recommend sharing some of Elvis’ music alongside the book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon
This picture book biography looks at the life of Leontyne Price, an African-American opera singer who burst through the color barrier. Born in Mississippi in 1927, Leontyne grew up poor in money but rich in music from both her parents. They also taught her that she was just as good as anyone else, no matter what their color. Leontyne was inspired when she saw Marian Anderson perform and then got to sing in the church choir when Anderson performed in 1939 after being barred from a whites-only concert hall. Leontyne headed to Ohio to college where she planned to be a teacher, but when her voice was discovered she changed her major to voice. She then went to Julliard and on to the world stage where she sang on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She became the first black singer to star at La Scala and broke wide the door that Marian Anderson had first opened.
Weatherford writes in prose that reads like poetry, broken into stanzas and offering celebrations of this inspiring woman on the page. From the pride and power of her upbringing by her parents to the final pages that show how far she has come, the book captures the strength and determination that it took to take a natural gift and break down barriers with it. Weatherford’s words are filled with moments that are inspiring, times that are amazing, but she also keeps things down to earth, showing even on the final page that Price is entirely human even as she reaches incredible heights in her career.
Colon’s illustrations are beautiful. Filled with his trademark scratches and lines, they have a beautiful flowing texture that carries from one image to the next. He uses sweeping colors to show the beauty of the music coming from both Price and Anderson, filling the world with the colors of music.
A beautiful and powerful testament to one of the ground breaking artists of our time. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
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.