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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone
Author: Alice Brière-Haquet
Illustrator: Bruno Liance
Published December 5th, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: “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.

ReviewAlthough Nina is just a taste into who Nina Simone was as it only introduces her talent as a pianist and shares her beliefs in regards to civil rights. Set up as a lullaby that Nina is singing to her child, the story recounts her love of music and learning about the racism within our nation as well as a story where she stood up to inequality at one of her piano concerts. The lyrics and illustrations are dreamy and perfectly fit the purpose of the story: to introduce and intrigue the reader when it comes to Nina Simone.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I do wish that there had been back matter that went more in depth into Simone’s contribution to jazz and civil rights; however, without them existing, this nonfiction picture book allows for a perfect change for inquiry. Now that students have been introduced to Nina, have stations/centers focusing on different parts of her life, jazz, or the Civil Rights Movement.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the illustration on the bus use the idea of the piano to symbolize the relationship between White and Black citizens in the early 1900s?
  • What techniques do the author and illustrator use to make the book seem lullaby-eque?
  • How did the imagery of the single black chair symbolize the racism that occurred at Simone’s concert?
  • How does the author tie in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement?

Flagged Passages: 

“‘The white keys are whole notes and the black keys are flats, or half notes,’ my teacher explained.

I asked why.

‘Because that’s just the way it is.’

Yes, that’s the way it was. White was whole. Black was half. It was that way everywhere and for everyone.

I could have held it against people. Or worse, I couldn’t believed I was worth less than other people.

Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge ivory keyboard.

But no. I did not agree with this.

The notes had to mingle and dance together in the air so these lies would disappear.”

Read This If You Love: Andrea Davis Pinkney picture book biographies, Jazz, Learning about the Civil Rights Movement

Recommended For: 

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3 Responses to Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet

  1. Michelle says:

    I’ve seen this book around a bit and am completely intrigued by it. You only added some fuel to that fire.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    This story adds to so many good stories that are being published and it sounds wonderful. Thanks, Kellee.

  3. Lana Koehler says:

    This book is full of inaccuracies of both music and Nina Simone. Please do not use it for facts about either.

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