Harlem's Little Blackbird

The Story of Florence Mills
October 2012. 32p. 978-0-37586-973-0.
K-Gr 3–While there are no recordings of her voice, singer Mills left a lasting mark in other ways–most notably with her efforts to bring attention to rising black performers and her compassion for the sick and poor. Born in 1896, she became known for her lovely voice and energetic stage presence as a child. Yet even with the rave reviews she received, she endured painful acts of prejudice. Her friends were refused entry to a theater in Washington, DC, to watch young Mills sing and dance, and later, when she was invited to perform in London, white passengers on the ship refused to share the dining room with her and her entourage. Mills was feisty, refusing to perform unless her guests could watch the show, and she turned down the chance to be the first black woman to perform in the Ziegfeld Follies in favor of joining shows that gave young black performers their chance to shine on stage. There’s a cheerful, singsong quality to Watson’s writing, but it doesn’t diminish the impact of racism in Mills’s life. Robinson utilizes cut paper and ink in rich earth tones to create a folk-art style that’s audacious and warm, much like the performer herself. This is a wonderful book for introducing a trailblazer in entertainment and equality.–Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR
This picture-book biography of songbird Florence Mills highlights her humble beginnings as a "daughter of former slaves, who grew up in a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy house" before chronicling her rise to fame during the Harlem Renaissance and the strides she made for African American artists. Robinson's inventive mixed-media art beautifully complements Watson's lulling prose. An author's note expands on Mills's benevolent spirit.

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