BookDragon Books for the Multi-Culti Reader

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance, translated by Julie Cormier [in Shelf Awareness]

A young daughter is “having a hard time falling asleep tonight.” To lull her to “dream,” her mother offers a story about “a baby wrapped in a white sheet and her mother smiling at her.” That baby is the titular jazz legend Nina Simone. Her first childhood memory at “about three” begins with playing the piano: of the 52 white keys and 36 “smaller” black keys, she prodigiously recognizes, “[w]hite was whole. Black was half. It was that way everywhere and for everyone.”

Refusing to accept she “was worth less than other people,” Nina finds solace and sanctuary in music: “The notes had to mingle and dance together in the air so these lies would disappear,” she insists. “Music has no color. In music there is only one rhythm. Only one heart.”

Music gives Nina her voice – as she plays, sings, dreams. At her first concert, 12-year-old Nina demands a front-row seat for her mother after she is moved to accommodate white guests. “Later, much later,” she embraces the dreams of Martin Luther King as her “symphony. Black and white people could come together in the big dance of life.” That “fragile” dream she entrusts to her now-sleeping child.

Nina spent her final decade in France, where she died in 2003. That a French team introduces Nina to younger readers seems fitting. Artist Bruno Liance impeccably complements author Alice Brière-Haquet’s purposeful black-and-white-keys metaphor; his beyond-the-text illustrations (bus passengers divided by race, a civil rights march) prove especially enhancing. As a first stop to learning more about the legendary Nina, this French import is sure to inspire new audiences.

Discover: In this French import, iconic jazz singer and activist Nina Simone encourages her young daughter to dream by sharing a goodnight story about her legendary life.

Review: “Children’s and Young Adult,” Shelf Awareness, November 10, 2017

Readers: Children

Published: 2017 (United States)

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