Recommended for readers 6-10
She is a legend in music and civil rights history. Author Alice Brière-Haquet and illustrator Bruno Liance introduce Nina Simone to new audiences with this beautifully written and illustrated book. Written as a story to Simone’s daughter, who’s having trouble falling asleep, Alice Brière-Haquet weaves a tale of achievement in the face of racism, using stunning imagery: the 52 white teeth “trapping” the 36 black teeth in the keyboard, and the white keys being whole notes while the black keys are half notes: “White was whole. Black was half. It was that way everywhere and for everyone.” Music was made by “important men in powdered wigs from past centuries”. Simone recalls her anger during a recital, when her mother was expected to give up her seat in the front, to white people who came to see her play; Simone refused to play until her mother resumed her rightful spot in the front row. She speaks of Martin Luther King, and his dream being her symphony – but the dream is fragile.
This book is gorgeous. The words are beautiful and strong, and using piano keys as an illustration of endemic racism is simply brilliant. Bruno Liance’s black and white illustrations are soft, dreamlike, beautiful. This spread is my absolute favorite; I’d love to give this print as a baby shower gift.
“Dream, my baby, dream, until you spread your wings…” (from Bruno Liance’s website)
Do kids know who Nina Simone is? Probably not, unless their parents are fans. Does that matter? Absolutely not – this is a gorgeous introduction to Nina Simone, and to activism, for all ages. This book is going on my shelves, in my storytimes, and in displays for social conscience, activism, and African-American history. If you’re so inclined, you can play Simone’s lullaby, “Hush Little Baby“, in your storytime or for your little one.
Nina was originally published in France in 2015. You can find more of Bruno Liance’s artwork at his (French/English) website, Pirate des Caramels, and you can follow Alice Brière-Haquet at her (French) blog, Alice in Wonderblog. Nina has starred reviews from Foreword Reviews and Booklist.