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Becoming Billie Holiday
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Becoming Billie Holiday

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  177 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Before the legend of Billie Holliday, there was a girl named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holliday, possibly one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Eleanora's journey into legend took her through pain, poverty and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could change her life - a voice. Eleano...more
Hardcover, 117 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Wordsong
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Read this striking collection of poetry while listening to a Billie Holiday record, preferably something from her earlier years. I chose The Quintessential Billie Holiday Columbia Jazz Compilation 1933-1935 (Vol 1) on vinyl.

Electrifying, my friends. Electrifying

(So ends the shortest review I've ever written.)
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Publisher and Date: Wordsong, 2008

Summary: This is a collection of over 100 poems written about Eleanor, other wise known as Billie Holiday. Almost all the poems Weatherford wrote in this book are titled with titles from songs Billie Holiday wrote and sang. Although Billie Holiday is known as one of the greatest jazz singers, these poems brutally describe the hardships of molestation, poverty, and hard work that brought her to not only the spotlight but to become...more
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Julie M. Prince for

Billie Holiday does not have a happy life story. After all, she sang the blues for a reason. A biography written in verse seems only appropriate for a woman who lived her life in song -- whose only reliable escape was via music.

Weatherford uses Holiday songs as poem titles throughout the book, which, in addition to the first person perspective, serves to bring the reader close to the narrative. While the story of Holiday's life is disturbing, Weat...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. Billie Holiday is one of my favorite singers, her voice moves me, so maybe I had unrealistic expectations for this book. Or maybe because this is a teen book, the author didn't really want to delve into the darkness that was in her life. There is absolutely no mention of herion addiction in the poems whatsoever. In the author's note at the end, Weatherford mentions it, and says that she wanted to tell a story about Billie before drugs darkened her life. Hmm...more
Ch_beth Rice
Becoming Billie Holiday takes readers on the journey of Eleanora Fagan as she transformed from a troubled youth into jazz musician Billie Holiday. Carole Boston Weatherford beautifully tells the singer’s fictional memoir through free verse poems. Weatherford’s words are beautifully enhanced with the dramatic art of Floyd Cooper. I recommend using this book with older students as it describes events in Eleanora’s life from rape and reform school to racial segregation. The story will lead to deep...more
Lindsey Bangert
A good biography, notable for not shying away from the adult situations in Billie ' life, including rape, prostitution, and arrest, all by age 14. The verse makes it easy to read and the focus on her early life males it fast paced. It might make a good companion to Navigating Early for readers looking to know more about the singer, who is mentioned repeatedly. Unfortunately, though good quality, the muted colors of the pictures may not appeal much to young readers, though they do match the often...more
Becoming Billie Holiday is an interesting way to pull together Eleanora Fagan's life, from her rough childhood to the famous artist she becomes. Carole Boston Weatherford created these poems based on the events of Billie's life.

The developmental areas that are addressed consist of growing up during the depression, rape, poverty, prostitution, growing up without a father, as well as various other struggles along her way to fame. Teens will definitely be able to relate to many of these issues. I...more
Some of the poems in this verse biography are stunning, many simply tell the story in first person. It's fictionalized, but in a way everything about Lady Day is fictionalized, and this is just one of the books that admits it. Poems are titled after songs & include lots of references to other names in jazz, swing, film, and stage. The author included bios of these other figures in the back, as well as a bit of biographical info on Billie's later life. Illustrated, too.

I was surprised the lib...more
Becoming Billie Holiday is a verse novel telling the story of Billie Holiday's early life, leading up to her performance of "Strange Fruit" at the Café Society. The book includes some 100 free-verse poems, each bearing the name of one of Holiday's songs (because as quoted in the epigraph, "she didn't sing anything unless she had lived it"), and some absolutely breathtaking artwork by Floyd Cooper.

I don't know how I feel, on a personal level, about verse novels. The problem I have with the ones I...more
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I find it interesting that all of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor books are poetry, a genre that some students find difficult, but also a genre that can express strong feelings in a few well-chosen words.
In Becoming Billie Holiday, author Carol Boston Weatherford explains in her author note, 'the young woman who speaks through these poems is Billie Holiday, before heroin and hard living took their toll.' This fictional memoir begins with Billie, or rather, Eleanora's birth in 1915 and ends...more
Becoming Billie Holiday is a unique biography of iconic jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday. This is not your typical non-fiction book. This text tells Holiday’s story through beautiful narrative poetry and stunning, colorful illustrations. Though this looks like a picture book for younger students, the content is geared toward older students creating a nice balance to the run-of-the-mill trade books used to teach history. Reluctant readers will be drawn to the illustrations, and the poetic for...more
She begins her journey as Eleanora Fagin. Born into poverty to a single mother in 1915 Philadelphia, disregarded by her father, and raised by a myriad of Baltimore relatives, Eleanora overcomes staggering obstacles to become the incomparable Billie Holiday. Weatherford recounts this biography in verse and presents a revealing account of a young girl, who suffers rape, reform school, prostitution, and jail all before her fifteenth birthday. The poems are told in first-person, using the names of B...more
Roxanne Hsu Feldman
This collection is definitely a bit uneven. Not all poems are superb but there are enough with poetic success to pull me through, with interest and enjoyment. Unfortunately, nice lines like this is not commonplace for this title: p. 49 a suitcase full of hard luck

There are, in my view, too many ready-made phrases (cliches) that show a certain amount of laziness on the poet's part like "I was the cat's meow." (p. 41 bottom of page) or "hot enough to fry an egg" (p.45).

I did feel that I got to kn...more
Sarah BT
I have never been a big biography fan, but this book impressed me. I love novels written in verse and I thought the idea to write a biography in verse worked out wonderfully.

Many of the poems have the feel of a jazz song that Ms. Holiday could be singing. The illustrations are sepia-toned and worked well with the book-they had a smokey feel and made you feel like you were in a jazz club with Ms. Holiday. I really felt as though Ms. Holiday was there with you sharing her life story.

I really enj...more
Chester Richmond
This book contains poems and songs that depict Billie Holiday’s life through song and prose. The text was compiled by Carole Weatherford and the Illustrations done by Floyd Cooper. Early on Cooper paints a beautiful picture of the young Billie. As the book progresses she ages and we get to see situations she had to deal with and her dreams through the paintings that appear every ten pages or so. The paintings all have a faded quality to them and many are paintings in the night time so they are i...more
Carole Boston Weatherford is a class act. I don't know if there's anything I can say which will do this poet justice. How hard it must have been to to detail the emotional ups and downs of Billie Holiday's life when there's no actual way of getting into Billy Holiday's skin. The middle of this book dragged a bit for me, but the beginning and ending were brilliant.

This poem, wow:

With Thee I Swing

Racism ripped America at the seams,
and jazz stitched the nation together
one song at a time. But music...more
Andrew Miller
This dark depressing book is definitely meant for an older audience. The front pages are important, as they suggest the time when this story takes place, the old fashion cars are dated around the 20’s or 30’s, giving a historical hint as to what should be expected. An earthy texture is used as the background to the text based pages. Every few pages there’s a very dark realistic illustration, powerfully showing the struggles the girl went through during this time of prejudice. The final page befo...more
This book was an interesting dip into the life of Billie Holiday, but probably not the best book for readers, especially the age group at which it is directed, who do not have much of a background about jazz and blues. The poems didn't floor me, but there were some beautiful ones, and it was a creative and imaginative touch on Weatherford's part that each poem was the title of one of Holiday's songs, which carried on the theme that begins the book in the form of Tony Bennett's quote that Holiday...more
Heather Hintze
1. Genre Young Adult Fictional Verse
2. Award (if applicable) Coretta Scott King Award
3. Star Rating 5
4. Grade level (s) 9-12th grade
5. Evaluation: This book is a really fun read as it flows beautifully. It is a fictional verse memoir; however it is based on the rough early years of a Eleanora, a talented girl who eventually (as reflected in the book) became known as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Because this book contains MANY harsh real topics (such as prostitu...more
I feel like “experience” is a truly fitting adjective for this text. I would actually recommend it to children and adults alike, not only because of the richness in historical value, but also because the stories of Holiday’s life that are told through this medium create a rich experience for all readers.

I believe, however, that Weatherford’s most phenomenal accomplishment with the text is that it communicates the story in a very similar way to the songs and jazz style of Billie Holiday—her sign...more
NSAndrew Liebergen
Before the legend of Billie Holliday, there was a girl named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holliday, possibly one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Eleanora's journey into legend took her through pain, poverty and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could change her life - a voice. Eleanora could sing! Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with some of the era's hottest big bands. Billie Holl...more
Breanna Haynes
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford was another amazingly illustrated book. This book didn’t have as many illustrations as some of the other books that I have read, but boy did those pictures speak volumes! They did a really amazing job of depicting all of the changes and important events that Billie Holiday went through throughout her lifetime. I thought that the pictures were beautiful. This book was another really great example of color choice. The colors in the pictures were...more
This is a book written in the form of poems and those poems are cleverly titled with the names of Holiday's songs. It primarily covers her childhood and adolescence and doesn't shy away from her being abused by a neighbor or neglected by her mother or her lesbian relationships. What is not included is her drug problems or death. The book includes very arresting drawings of Holiday at different points in her life and they mesh beautifully with the poems. I enjoyed the book and found it engrossing...more
Lydia Presley

The quote in the beginning of the book is:

When you listen to her, it's almost like an audiotape of her autobiography. She didn't sing anything unless she had lived it.
- Tony Bennett, jazz singer

A very, very quick read - but thoroughly enjoyable, and great premise. The author/poet took the titles of Billie Holiday's songs and wrote poems about her life under their headlines. And really, each title of each song had a particular meaning to points of her life. And the coda.. well.. it gave me chill...more
2009 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book
This was the first novel-in-verse that I have ever read. The book is a fictional memoir about jazz legend Billie Holiday. The poems were free verse and the titles of each poem came from a song by Billie Holiday. Holiday had a difficult life and the poems are a testament to that but they also show how much she loved to sing. Depsite what she went through she could always return to her music.
I enjoyed the book and the illustrations were also well done. I w...more
Paul  Hankins
So many "ladders" in and out of this text. I'd love to share this one in February along with some other picture books I've discovered of late that have musical accompaniments. I have Odetta, John Coltraine, Gillespie, and now Holiday, that I can display in Room 407 with their albums right next to them. I am thinking of setting up reading/listening stations during the month of February where students can choose when they go over to enjoy the books and the music.

I also wanted to note that this is...more
I thought this was beautiful. Between the gorgeous pictures and breathtaking poetry about growing up as Billie Holiday, I'm going to get on iTunes and listen to some Billie Holiday. She had a tough life, which many kids can relate to, but her extraordinary gift to sing and her resilience, created a legend. There are some passages that can stand-alone

'Cause I could not wait a minute longer / to burst on the scene, and 2:30 am, / April 17, 1915, was as good a time as any / to gasp my first breath,...more
Taryn Brittany
This is a fictional verse memoir based on Billie Holiday's early life and rise to stardom. In a creative twist, most of the poems in the book share titles with Holiday's songs. Billie (who was born Eleanora) had a difficult childhood, and this novel does not shy away from any tough topic. The novel really gives you a sense of the hardship Billie endured as she grew up and the prejudices she faces as she began to tour. The artwork by Floyd Cooper is amazing as well. Definitely check this one out!
May 09, 2010 Ari rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Billie Holiday, music lovers, teens
The poems were so lovely and it was great to learn more about billie Holiday and imagine how she must have felt at certain times in her life. carole Weatherford is a gifted poet and she does a fantastic job of presenting Billie Holiday to a group of readers who don't usually listen to her (I had only heard 2 of her songs before reading this book).I have a new appreciation for Lady Day.

Another review will be posted at my blog later in the week :)
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