Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The Horne family tree was laden with achievers: teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet, the dean of a black college, and Lena's grandmother Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate.

Premise/plot: Carole Boston Weatherford has written a picture book biography of Lena Horne. It is beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. It would be appropriate for elementary students certainly. (Not as certain that it would hold the interest of say the preschool crowd.)

My thoughts: I loved this one. I did. To be fair, I love a good biography. But I had a special interest in the subject as well. This one spans decades and reflects the times--before, during, and after the civil rights movement. I loved that the author included quotes by Lena Horne.
  • You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way. ~ Lena Horne
  • They didn't make me into a maid, but they didn't make me into anything else either. ~ Lena Horne
 But above all, I loved all the information packed into the narrative. I'm not saying that the narrative is text-heavy or bulky. Far from it. It's very much still a narrative story woven together with facts. But I love learning as I read.

Did you know?
  • That Lena Horne, at age 2, became one of the youngest members of the NAACP? That she was in fact a 'cover girl' for the NAACP Branch Bulletit in 1919!
  • That Lena Horne was a life-long reader and lover of books?!
  • That she spent some of her childhood years on the vaudeville circuit with her mother.
  • That she started her career on the chorus line...before moving on to Broadway, orchestras, and the movies...
  • That she was one of the first black vocalists to front an all-white big band.
  • That she received the first ever studio contract for a black actress.
  • That she refused to play stereotypical roles in movies--maids and mammies.
  • That she often appeared only in singing numbers that could be edited out in Southern theaters.
  • Here's what I found most disturbing: Max Factor created makeup just for her to wear on screen, and, white actresses started wearing it and getting roles for light-skinned black women.
  • That performing for the troops during World War II was segregated and that she eventually became so upset by it that she paid her own way to perform just for black troops. 
  • She was blacklisted during the McCarthy years.
I could go on and on. It was just a super-fascinating read. I think the illustration I loved best was Lena Horne with Kermit the Frog because that I remember!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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