skip to Main Content

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
with illustrations by Raul Colón
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist & School Library Journal

Leontyne-Price-cvr.jpgI chose to read and review author Carole Boston Weatherford’s nonfiction picture book biography, Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, not only because I’m a HUGE Porgy and Bess fan, but also to honor a powerhouse performer during Black History Month.

Other African-American kids might not have persevered in light of the pervasive prejudice that existed when Leontyne Price was growing up in the deep south, but thankfully she did. Price was born in 1927, just one year after Melba Doretta Liston, another musical talent. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi to a hard-working, supportive, and music-loving mother and father. At a young age Leontyne found herself moved by the music she heard:  “Singing along to her daddy James’s records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts.” Her parents even sold their phonograph so their daughter could get a piano along with lessons.

Like the opera singer Marian Anderson before her, Leontyne felt the music stir within her as she sang in the church choir. Soon she was heading off to college to pursue a teaching career since, in that era, the chances of becoming a successful black singer seemed out of reach. Surely her talent played a part in that educational opportunity as I read online that she received a scholarship to attend university in Ohio. Everything changed however, when her singing talents were heard by the college president who “convinced her to study voice instead.”

It didn’t take long for Leontyne’s star to begin rising when she attended Julliard and began earning acclaim for her singing. Her first break came when she appeared on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She was also the “the first black singer to star at La Scala, Italy’s famed opera palace.” What I would have given to be in the audience at that performance! Eventually she landed a lead role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, breaking new ground for generations of African-American performers to come.

Weatherford points out in her Author’s Note that while Leontyne may have achieved great fame, she “still encountered racism in the United States. To her credit, her wondrous voice overcame the obstacles.” This wonderful biography chronicles the life of an iconic 20th century opera singer who followed her dream and ultimately fulfilled it. As an adult, I can recall watching Price on Ed Sullivan but having no idea of what her  challenges would have been to gain recognition and be on TV. In fact, Weatherford says, “Price was the first black opera singer to perform on television in the United States.” What a great story for kids to read who may take for granted the struggles African-Americans like Price faced in the past. Nowadays it may just take a click of a cell phone to get a video made and uploaded onto YouTube for anyone to see, when in the previous century it may have taken an entire lifetime. I like that young readers can use this book as a jumping off point for reading more about influential African-Americans mentioned such as Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves.

Raul Colón’s illustrations bring the same joy to this picture book that Price’s voice brought to anyone who heard it. From the opening spread, what looks like a rainbow of musical notes, takes on the form of a wave and flows through the book on pages when Leontyne sings. I also like the slight fuzziness of the artwork, as if we’re watching Price’s life unfold as seen on the early days of television broadcasting.

Before reading Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century I had no idea all the firsts this amazing woman achieved and I hope her accomplishments will inspire our 21st century children to keep reaching for the stars.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Share this:

Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day With Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

GOOD READS WITH RONNA

is a proud participant in

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2015

Featuring

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

e

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day and we’re SO excited!! We’ve got one book from our friends at Lee and Low Books that we’re talking about today, and two more we’ll mention below that are also must-reads. But before you get the scoop about Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, learn about the origins of MCBD and help us celebrate and promote diversity in kidlit. Use the hashtag #ReadYourWorld and spread the word!


THE MISSION OF MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY: 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is to create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

You can find the MCBD blog and links to all the other participating sites here.

REVIEW: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone                                                                                  

Little Melba book coverPick an instrument, any instrument – would you pick the trombone? Well, in Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, (Lee and Low, $18.95, Ages 4-8) by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison, that’s exactly what Melba Doretta Liston did and never once looked back! This eye-opening fictionalized picture book biography recounts the story of a jazz pioneer whose contribution to the music industry is presented in irresistible prose and artwork certain to get your toes tapping and fingers snapping.

Born in pre-Depression Kansas City, Melba had the music in her from an early age. In fact making music would always matter to Melba. It was easy to be influenced when “avenues were lined with jazz club, street bands, and folks harmonizing on every corner.” From blues to jazz to gospel, Melba loved it all and soaked up all the sounds around her. At age seven she chose a “shiny trombone: from the traveling music store and, with the help of her grandpa and her keen ear, Melba learned how to play it.

little melba int spread
Interior artwork from Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison, Lee & Low Books, ©2014.

e

In the years following the Depression, things got tough financially for Melba’s mom so together the two moved to Los Angeles where Melba’s trombone talent really took off. Eventually, when she was just seventeen, Melba toured the country with trumpeter Gerald Wilson’s band. With the popularity of jazz sweeping the nation, Melba’s prowess on her beloved brass instrument stood out on stages everywhere. “She composed and arranged music, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs.”

This young woman was a musical force to be reckoned with. But the harsh realities of racial segregation she and the band experienced while touring down South meant “some white folks didn’t show good manners toward folks with brown skin.” This brought Melba to the brink of quitting, but ultimately she persevered, playing her horn with the likes of “Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and more.” She even toured briefly with Billie Holiday. Melba’s career took her around the world and garnered her numerous awards including being named Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, “the highest honor the U.S. gives to a jazz artist.”

Helpful back matter includes an Afterword, a Selected Discography and Author’s Sources. This pioneering, brass playing woman has left a legacy of music to learn and love, as well as a tale that begged to be told. I’m thrilled Russell-Brown found Melba’s inspiring story and conveyed it so beautifully. Russell-Brown’s words coupled with Morrison’s warm and spirited illustrations take us back in time so when we’re done reading we feel as if we’ve been on the road with Melba Liston, and that’s really something special!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

LEND A HAND cover Check out Lee and Low Books today for these and other diverse books:The Hula-Hoopin' Queen cvr
Lend a Hand and The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen.

RELATED ACTIVITY: Make a musical instrument with your child

Simply get an empty toilet paper roll, scissors, wax paper, a rubber band (or masking tape), fun stickers, and something sharp like the point of the scissors (NOTE: for parents to do only!). Cut a piece of the wax paper that is large enough to completely cover the hole at one end with room to spare for fastening it down. Use a rubber band or masking tape to hold the wax paper in place. One option is to make small holes in the wax paper then have your child decorate the toilet roll with stickers or patterned duct tape and try out the sound. Another option is to make one hole in the part of the toilet paper roll that is not covered by the wax paper, and no holes in the wax paper. Have your child compare the sounds these two types of kazoos make. Try making the instrument with a paper towel roll instead. Is the sound any different using a long paper roll? Will more holes cut into the toilet paper roll or paper towel rolls make the sounds change?

MORE ABOUT MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY
MCBD Diversity Book Lists and Resources for Educators and Parents is now available.
http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/multicultural-reading-resources/diversity-book-lists-for-kids/

MCBD’s new Facebook page
MCBD’s new Twitter using #ReadYourWorld

Share this:

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, $18.95, ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this Landmark Civil Rights Project

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Booklist & School Library Journal

“I am determined to become a first class citizen … I am determined to get every Negro in the State of Mississippi registered (Fannie Lou Hamer, p 1).

Freedom-Summer-cvr.jpg
Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin, Holiday House, 2014.

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of several biographies and books on the Holocaust (see her website: www.susangoldmanrubin.com), has written a dramatic account of the efforts of civil rights organizations and volunteers, mostly college-aged students, who worked together during the summer of 1964 to educate African Americans in Mississippi about their voting rights. While greeted warmly by African Americans, who also opened their homes to the young students, volunteers worked in an intense and dangerous environment. Prior to arriving in Mississippi, volunteers, who hailed from all across the country, received one week training in how to behave and dress so as to avoid physical harm. They learned that “no one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night …” (pp. 6-7). Volunteers were advised to sleep at the back of the house and listen for sudden car accelerations as that might signal a bombing. Contrary to what they had been taught in the North, Southern police were not their friends.

Despite the never ending climate of fear and the murder of three of the workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner), students and community members continued their heroic efforts to establish Freedom Schools and register voters. The Freedom Schools were enormously successful: with enrollment of over 2000 adults and children. Voter registration, however, proved to be much more challenging due to African Americans fears of physical violence and obstacles such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent them from voting. However, these efforts led to President Johnson’s 1965 Civil Rights Act and, by 1966, registered African American voters soared from 6.4% to almost 60% (p. 97).

Rubin’s compelling and gripping account includes primary sources: interviews with surviving volunteers and community members, reproductions of period photos, FBI posters, newspaper articles and other documents. End material includes a bibliography, timeline, recommended websites, and appendices of original documents. The book also includes illustrations by Tracy Sugarman, an American artist who illustrated important historical events. At 41, he was the oldest volunteer and shadowed the volunteers to chronicle their work in art (see PBS’s “Freedom Summer” web pages for more information on the documentary and Sugarman and his illustrations: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer). Highly recommended for middle graders thru high school, as a readable narrative as well as a compelling way for teachers and librarians to meet Common Core standard in how researchers use primary sources to bring historical events to life. In an interview with Holiday House (see below), Rubin expresses her hope that this book will inspire students to seek out their community’s stories.

Visit the publisher at http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823429202
for links to educators’ guide, transcripts of the author’s interviews, video interview with author, and more.

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: