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Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her

by Amy Novesky ; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Age Range: 4 - 8

Pub Date: June 18th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-15-205806-7
Publisher: Harcourt

Using simple, reductive prose, this appreciation of jazz great Holiday focuses on the dogs in the singer’s life.

“Lady Day’s dogs were her best friends of all.” Novesky supports this assertion with evidence: a pocket-sized poodle, a beagle, Chihuahuas; a mutt called Rajah Ravoy. But the spotlight’s on Mister, Holiday’s elegant, devoted boxer, who went to gigs, dined on steaks and even wore a mink coat. While an author’s note provides background, the text is resolutely oblique on the subject of Holiday’s 1947 drug conviction and jail time. “[J]ust when her career was at the top, Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn’t come.” While much of the narrative is fact-based, Novesky does take an acknowledged liberty in speculating that Mister might have attended Billie’s successful post-prison show at Carnegie Hall. (Illustrator Newton places Mister there, on the final spread.) Newton’s appealing mixed-media pictures, containing elements of gouache, charcoal, collage and digital layering, range from images derived from concert photos to a playful imagining of napkin-draped Mister drooling over a steak. Her reliance on period photos has one drawback: Holiday’s face and physique alter in several spreads, belying the compressed, undated narrative arc.

By highlighting Lady Day’s affectionate relationship with Mister, Novesky and Newton invite readers to admire the illustrious singer in a sparkling new light. (author’s note, website, adult bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)