cover image Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills

Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills

Ren%C3%A9e Watson, illus. by Christian Robinson. Random, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-86973-0

Watson (A Place Where Hurricanes Happen) pairs with first-time illustrator Robinson for a subdued but striking telling of the life of Florence Mills, following her journey from "the daughter of former slaves, living in a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy house" to international stardom as a singer and performer. Robinson's chunky mixed-media collages have a vibrant palette and angularity that nods to Harlem Renaissance artists like Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, while removing some of the sting from the discrimination Mills was exposed to, even as a child. In a memorable early scene, a young Mills refuses to perform at a whites-only club until her black friends can be snuck in to watch: "If they can't go in there, I'm staying out here!" she insists. Although Watson makes Mills's musical talents clear (an author's note reveals that her "voice was never recorded, and no films of her performances exist"), weight is also given to her generosity, even at the height of her stardom, cementing the idea that the potential for greatness lies within everyone. Ages 3%E2%80%938. Illustrator's agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)