Florence Mills, dancer and singer, was the sweetheart of the Harlem Renaissance.
From childhood, Baby Flo entertained her family and her neighbors in Washington, D.C. Her parents put her on stage when she was 3 years old, entered her in cakewalk contests and had her entertain the rich and powerful at their homes. Fame came early in the vaudeville production The Sons of Ham. Mills went on to perform to great acclaim in stage productions in New York and in London. Unfortunately, she died in 1927 at the age of 31 and was mourned by thousands at her Harlem funeral. Duke Ellington’s composition “Black Beauty” is believed to have been written in her memory. Schroeder concentrates his story on her very early years, leaving her exciting adult career and life to a lengthy afterword. The watercolor illustrations feature a perpetually smiling Flo, smiling family, smiling neighbors and smiling passersby. She is not well known today because there are no known recordings or film footage, and unfortunately, this title presents an overly perky perspective on an African-American performer born to former slaves. There should be a better balance between the actual text and the information in the author’s note.
Kudos for the effort, but a more illuminating text and more suitable illustrations would have made this a much better title. (author’s note, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 3-7)