Toby's Reviews > Becoming Billie Holiday

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
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Feb 15, 09

bookshelves: children-s-award-winner
Read in February, 2009

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 with her first performance of Strange Fruit at the age of 25. In between, the prose poems and evocative illustrations, by 2009 CSK Illustrator Medalist Floyd Cooper, immerse readers in both Holiday's own life and the world in which she grew up.
The book opens with a quotation from Tony Bennett: 'When you listen to her, it's almost like an audiotape of her autobiography. She didn't sing anything unless she had lived it' and in fact, each poem that tells her first person story is the title of one of her songs. And yet, even in verse, Billie Holiday's life is explored in detail; the book also includes references, recommended reading, and an afterward for those who want to know more. Most students however will want to follow-up by listening to her music, the soundtrack of her emotional life.
Author Weatherford's language is lyrical. Consider, for example, the poem titled Love for Sale: 'Harlem...was a sea of black folks, striving to rise from fields to factories or from hard luck to street hustles, flowing through clubs and churches, grooving on jazz and Jesus.' In a classroom, reading Becoming Billie Holiday would be an engaging introduction to a study of the Harlem Renaissance.
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