• 1699

By: Alice Brière-Haquet / Illustrated by: Bruno Liance

"To be young, gifted, and black."

A stunning picture-book biography of the High Priestess of Soul and one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.
With evocative black-and-white illustrations and moving prose, readers are introduced to Nina Simone, jazz-music legend and civil-rights activist. Shared as a lullaby to her daughter, a soulful song recounts Simone's career, the trials she faced as an African American woman, and the stand she took during the Civil Rights Movement. This poignant picture book offers a melodic tale that is both a historic account of an iconic figure and an extraordinary look at how far we've come and how far we still need to go for social justice and equality. A timeless and timely message aptly appropriate for today's social and political climates.

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Author & Illustrator Bios:

Alice Brière-Haquet

Alice Brière-Haquet teaches high school literature and has published several books for children, including ONE Very Big Bear (Abrams) and Zebedee's Balloon (Auzou). She lives in France.

Bruno Liance

Bruno Liance is an illustrator, dad, and music lover. He has been making art full-time for fifteen years after studying decorative arts in Paris. He lives in France.

Awards & Honors:

Coming soon!

Editorial Reviews:

Booklist, starred review

Nina Simone probably won’t be a familiar name to primary graders, but that doesn’t matter much in this captivating book focusing on the young Nina and how early events in her life shaped her adult passions. This begins with Nina singing a lullaby she’s written to her daughter. At bedtime, she tells the child stories of her own youth. When she first saw a piano, she noticed the black keys were smaller than the white ones—and that could have become a metaphor for the world. “Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge ivory keyboard. But no. I did not agree with this.” Another incident, after she’s become an accomplished musician: at a concert, her mother is seated up-front until white audience members arrive. But Nina won’t play if her mother must move, so her mother stays put. Later, Martin Luther King becomes “her symphony.” But his dream must be nurtured, she murmurs as her daughter sleeps. This French import is strikingly illustrated in black-and-white. A two-page spread in which white people sit, while black people stand behind them, arms raised, conveys a historical drama made even more powerful by the medium. Perhaps because of its French origin, there’s no author’s note, nothing that further details Simone’s career. But this stands on its own.

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

A biography about the legendary singer told as a lullaby from Simone to her daughter.

With black-and-white illustrations that evoke a dreamy, old-time feel, Simone (appropriately portrayed with an afro) sings her daughter a lullaby interspersed with the story of her life. At 3, Simone starts piano lessons, connecting the appearance of the piano keys to the oppression of black people in the US. Music offers Simone an escape (“Music has no color”), though the fact that the “important men in powered wings from past centuries” whose music she plays are all white is addressed only in the illustration. (Here young Simone is also depicted with white hair which will probably require some assistance from caregivers to unpack). When 12-year-old Simone gives a church performance, she refuses to play until her mother, who had given up her front-row seat for a white attendee, is reseated in the front row setting a precedent for her activist future. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is cited as an inspiration (though without the honorific), and a spread with protest signs adds humor with Simone happily pointing to her own sign, which reads, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” a nod to her future song. Though the softly textured illustrations in this French import are sometimes obscure, they are always beautiful. A good introduction to Simone’s life, from her early love of music to her rise to the status of legend.

Foreword Reviews, starred review

A soft lullaby sung to comfort a sleepy little girl turns into the inspiring story of remarkable musical talent blossoming in the face of racial inequalities in Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone, by Alice Brière-Haquet. Hauntingly beautiful illustrations from Bruno Liance are in shades of black and white, light and shadow, to cast a dreamlike resonance over young Nina’s piano playing as she notices, reflects, and rises above the prejudice around her.

The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books

With a framing story that has Nina Simone telling her life as a bedtime story to her daughter, this imported French picture book chronicles the experiences that led her to become a classically trained jazz legend and civil rights activist. An early brush with racism occurred at her church, when Nina’s mother sat proudly in the front row awaiting her young daughter’s piano debut performance, until the arrival of white parishioners meant she had to move. Even piano lessons reminded her of racial inequalities because, as her teacher explained, the “white keys are whole notes and the black keys are flats, or half notes . . . that’s just the way it is.” Eventually, the young lyricist was moved to voice her resistance to social inequalities, and her musical gifts would score her journey to impact society. The story moves in quick, impressionistic beats that focus on feelings rather than biographical detail, but it’s fluidly told, and it may whet listeners’ appetites for more. Liance evokes a dream- like state in the appropriately monochromatic illustrations as soft grainy charcoal allows black and white to merge in shades from dark to pale; creative, symbolic interpretations are dramatic, as in the minimalist image of white people seated as on a bus while black people stand behind them with fists upraised in what could be a grab onto the unseen strap—or a black power salute. Librarians in search of a way to inspire today’s youth with exceptional children of generations past will want to make room in their collections for Nina.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-827-0

ISBN: 978-1-63289-691-9 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-63289-692-6 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 11

Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 1. Standards 1-8, 10
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 2. Standards 1, 3-8, 10

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