Her brief life is well worth celebrating, and here it is done well.

READ REVIEW

HARLEM'S LITTLE BLACKBIRD

Watson’s biographical distillation of the life of jazz singer and dancer Florence Mills is endearing and affectionate, at just the right level for very young readers.

The child who “lived in a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy house” won singing and cakewalking contests all over Washington, D.C., and became famous dancing with her sisters. When Florence was a young teen, the girls performed in Harlem’s Lincoln Theatre in New York, and from there, Florence landed roles in Shuffle Along and From Dover Street to Dixie, introducing jazz to white audiences and mesmerizing crowds. Robinson’s big-eyed portrayal of Florence and her work is terrific: jazzy, geometric and lively. The city scenes, stage moments and glimpses of Florence on- and offstage are sweetly retro; 20 blackbirds on stylized, blooming branches on both front and back endpapers add charm to the work overall. Mills’ generous personality comes through clearly, and Watson aptly uses lyrics from Mills’ songs to help emphasize the story. Watson describes Florence’s decision to turn down a part in the Ziegfield Follies for chances to perform with other black actors and singers and to continue to “use her voice for more than entertainment”—to sing for equal rights. Young readers and listeners will feel the thrill of her success here and in London and the sadness of Florence’s death at age 31.

Her brief life is well worth celebrating, and here it is done well. (Picture book/biography. 3-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-86973-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A predictable ballet tale for die-hard Copeland fans or as an introduction to Coppélia.

BUNHEADS

A young ballerina takes on her first starring role.

Young Misty has just begun taking ballet when her teacher announces auditions for the classic ballet Coppélia. Misty listens spellbound as Miss Bradley tells the story of the toymaker who creates a doll so lifelike it threatens to steal a boy’s heart away from his betrothed, Swanilda. Paired with a kind classmate, Misty works hard to perfect the steps and wins the part she’s wanted all along: Swanilda. As the book closes, Misty and her fellow dancers take their triumphant opening-night bows. Written in third person, the narrative follows a linear structure, but the storyline lacks conflict and therefore urgency. It functions more as an introduction to Coppélia than anything else, despite the oddly chosen title. Even those unfamiliar with Copeland’s legendary status as the first black principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre will predict the trite ending. The illustrations are an attractive combination of warm brown, yellow, and rosy mahogany. However, this combination also obscures variations in skin tone, especially among Misty’s classmates. Misty and her mother are depicted with brown hair and brown skin; Miss Bradley has red hair and pale skin. Additionally, there’s a disappointing lack of body-type diversity; the dancers are depicted as uniformly skinny with extremely long limbs. The precise linework captures movement, yet the humanity of dance is missing. Many ballet steps are illustrated clearly, but some might confuse readers unfamiliar with ballet terminology. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.5-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 48% of actual size.)

A predictable ballet tale for die-hard Copeland fans or as an introduction to Coppélia. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-54764-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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