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The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

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Celebrate the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress and civil rights activist, with this inspiring and powerful picture book from award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress.

But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling.

48 pages, Hardcover

First published January 24, 2017

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About the author

Carole Boston Weatherford

83 books343 followers
Carole Boston Weatherford is a children's book author and poet who "mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." A number of Weatherford's books tell the stories of African-American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Billie Holiday. Other books recount historical events such as the Greensboro Sit-ins and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Weatherford's books have received a wide variety of awards, including a Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.

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5 stars
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205 (48%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 106 reviews
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book649 followers
March 19, 2019
I visited our local library today and got an opportunity to read another picture book biography about a famous woman for Women's History Month.

This is a thoughtful biography of one of America's most memorable and dynamic performers, Lena Horne.

I appreciated that Ms. Weatherford focused as much on Ms Horne's activism and her ability to stand up for her rights as on her singing and acting.

I remember watching her singing on The Muppet Show (the Author's Note mentions that her duet with Kermit the Frog was on Sesame Street), but in both cases, she gave wonderful performances.

The Author's note gives a bit of the author's inspiration for the book and it is accompanied by a Bibliography and other resources for further information.

The illustrations were created using oil paint and cut paper collage and are sure to appeal to children.
Profile Image for Bethany M. Edwards.
78 reviews16 followers
November 29, 2017
Celebrate the life of Lena Horne: an actress who broke the glass ceiling and broke down racial barriers with a microphone in her hand.
“You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.”
Lena Horne was born into a family of teachers and activists.
Her mother dreamed of being an actress, and like most little girls who adore their mothers, little Lena followed in her footsteps.
Like most struggling actresses, Lena lived out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something incredible—the FIRST ever studio contract for a black actress.
But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies and she waged a war by refusing to play these stereotypes and demand respect.
However, she never gave up.
With “Stormy Weather” as her theme song, she found her voice and her calling.
She eventually married a White music director for MGM in Paris since interracial marriages were still illegal in many of the States.
Later she said she married him to advance her career, but learned to love him and rely on him for support and courage.
Lena went on to become an international star, Broadway singer, and even sing with Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street!
More important than her pretty face, she became a foot soldier for the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King.
You will love reading this historical biography about the life of Lena Horne.
You will feel the triumph as you watch the story unfolds with Lena seizing every opportunity to shine her bright light. A true role model and #shero for all.
Profile Image for Laura Harrison.
1,033 reviews113 followers
January 27, 2017
This is one of the most beautiful picture book biographies I have ever seen. The cover art is swoon worthy. Large format picture book that details Lena Horne's life. I am thrilled that a biography about this inspirational woman was created. Children should be aware of her struggles and her many accomplishments. Fabulous!
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,117 reviews109 followers
March 24, 2017
Born into a family of educators and activists, Lena Horne grew to be an African-American star and civil rights activist. As a child, Lena’s parents dreamed of making it big. Her father was a street hustler and her mother was an actress. As a small child, she was left with her grandmother in Brooklyn while her parents sought their fortune. From her grandmother, Lena learned about the value of education, good manners, and black pride. But soon Lena’s mother returned and took Lena on the road with her. During the Great Depression, her mother decided to put Lena on stage. Lena soon outshone her mother, becoming the first African-American actress to get a studio contract. She eventually also found her voice in the civil rights movement.

Weatherford shows Horne as a small child torn between the dreams of her grandmother and her mother. Then in the middle of the book, a transformation happens and Lena takes to the stage, becoming a star. The book beautifully weaves together the two dreams of grandmother and mother, showing how Horne’s life honors them both and how her career evolved to become large enough to encompass everyone’s wishes. Weatherford uses text carefully and deftly, making sure that the book remains readable by younger readers. There is a feeling of verse to her prose that invites readers in.

Zunon’s illustrations are done in oil paint and cut paper collage. The paper collage adds patterns and texture to the images. The paintings provide the people, expressions, and emotions. They show Horne growing and changing, transforming before the reader’s eyes into a star.

This is a gorgeous picture book biography honoring a woman who broke new ground in civil rights using her career and her voice. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Profile Image for Judy.
275 reviews5 followers
January 27, 2017
Fantastic art, wonderful writing, a great book for children looking beyond the typical picture book.
Profile Image for Jill.
2,190 reviews81 followers
October 28, 2017
This book tells the story of Lena Horne, the famous singer, actress, and activist, born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. It begins with a quote by her as the epigraph: “You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.” Lena never accepted the judgment of white America. As the author observes:

“Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle. At two, she became not just one of the youngest members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but also a cover girl for the NAACP Branch Bulletin.”

Lena was brought up at first by her grandmother, who taught her to read, to have good manners, and to have black pride. She also enrolled Lena in drama and dance lessons. Eventually however, Lena’s mother came to get Lena and took her along while she chased parts in vaudeville. During the Great Depression, Lena’s mother put Lena onstage to help earn money.

Lena joined the chorus line at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, and before long got a singing and dancing job with a black band. With them, Lena, age 18, cut her first record, “I Take to You.” Soon she was hired by an all-white big band, one of the first black vocalists to be in this position. But, as the author reports:

“Lena was banned from the bandstand between numbers. Restaurants refused to serve her and hotels refused her rooms and she slept in the bus.”

After appearing in a nightclub out west, MGM offered her a studio contract, the first ever for a black actress. With encouragement from the NAACP, which was trying to change the way whites saw African Americans, Lena refused to play maids or mammies. But there weren’t many roles for black actresses:

“So Lena was cast, instead, in singing numbers that could be easily snipped from films when shown in the South so as not to defy racist views.”

During WWII, Lena sang on armed forces radio shows, but only on the shows for blacks - entertainment was separated. Furthermore:

“At one venue, Lena was denied a cup of coffee but was asked for autographs on her way out. At another, German prisoners of war were seated in front of black soldiers.”

She filed a complaint with the NAACP over these insults, and, fed up, she paid her own way from then on to perform for black troops.

After the war, her ties to outspoken activists (i.e., black men who argued for equality), got her blacklisted, and she couldn’t get a job in Hollywood. Still, she was invited to sing at President Truman’s inaugural ball.

In 1947, Lena, now divorced and with two children, went to Paris to marry a white man, because many states in the U.S. did not allow interracial marriage. The couple didn’t publicize their marriage for three years.

In 1957, her name finally came off the blacklist, and she sang on television and starred on Broadway. But, as Weatherford avers, “her most important work lay ahead.”

Lena got involved in the Civil Rights movement, taking time off from the stage and screen to sing at rallies. After the Sixties, she continued to cut records and accumulate honors, including getting inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. She also continued to speak out throughout her lifetime against discrimination due to race. She died in 2010. The author concludes:

“Lena Horne’s pioneering performances, her fight on the front lines of the freedom struggle, the racial barriers that she broke, and her fiery pride form her legacy. Because Lena refused to darken rear doors, black stars now gleam on red carpets and reap box-office gold.”

The book ends with an Author’s Note, bibliography, and suggestions for further reading and listening.

Lovely true-to-life illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon were created from oil paint and cut paper collage. The collage aspect of the art gives it a depth and realism as well as adding visual interest.

Evaluation: Weatherford, author of over forty books, many of which have been award-winners, wields her reliably good talent in emphasizing the struggles, persistence, and courage of a woman who today is not really remembered as much as she should be. While there are those who know Lena Horne for her singing, her contributions to the cause of civil rights were also outstanding and should be recognized.
Profile Image for Martha.
1,269 reviews11 followers
September 23, 2017
"You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way." This quote from Lena Horne defines her approach to life. As a child brought up in a family of highly successful teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet, and a dean of a black college, she was taught black pride, good manners, and the importance of a good education. Lena celebrated a lifelong love of reading, and at the age of two became the cover girl of the the NAACP Branch Bulletin. She was the daughter of an actress mother, who when money became tight during the Great Depression, eventually decided to put Lena on stage. Auditioning at the Cotton Club with mentors such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and her mother Edna as her singing coach, Lena soared from the chorus line to the lead singer in an all white band. Fraught with civil rights injustices such as being banned from sleeping in hotels, Lena had to find black families to stay with, or sleep on the bus. Hollywood movie makers soon spotted her talent and offered her a studio contract. Although she accepted, she listened to the advice of the NAACP and insisted on refusing stereotyped roles such as maids or mammies. Her selectivity caused her to star in less films, yet she was still cast for singing roles in many movies. What I found most commendable about this biography was its focus on Lena Horne's leadership qualities in fighting racism. She supported the black soldiers in World War II, paying her own way to perform for black troops such as the famous Tuskegee Airmen. Suffering the racist Hollywood pushback against activist championed by the Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare era, she was blacklisted. Yet she soon emerged for her most important civil rights work in the 1960's, such as singing "This Little Light of Mine" during the a civil rights rally led by Medgar Evans. She sang for many civil rights rallies and even participated in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Lena Horne a pioneer for African American equality and excellence exemplified leadership with dignity and a sharp focus, improving the world through equality for all. The author's note in the back adds extra fascinating details about Lena Horne's life. The beautiful oil paint and collage illustrations and comprehensive fascinating story of her life will inspire hope and positive aspirations for young readers, a masterpiece!
Profile Image for Margaret.
2,556 reviews
January 27, 2017
Before we could afford a television set the place of prominence in our living room was filled by our radio and record player combination furniture. By today's standards it was huge; a large unit with the record player sliding out like a file cabinet drawer in the front. It played 78RPM records and 45RPM with an adapter. My parents loved listening to their favorite music when they were not working. One of my dad's favorite singers was Lena Horne. If I close my eyes I can travel back in time, listening to Stormy Weather with my dad.

More than ever I wish I could talk to him, asking him if he knew as much about her life as I now do after reading this most recent picture book biography about her life. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, January 24, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Elizabeth Zunon is stunning. Readers will be captivated as soon as they read her introductory quotation before the narrative begins.

My full recommendation: http://librariansquest.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Samantha.
4,985 reviews58 followers
February 16, 2017
A celebration of the life of Lena Horne with a special emphasis on her civil rights work. I like the way the text reads; it's not a straightforward biography, though it does contain all the basic info readers will need to understand Horne's formative influences and the era she grew up in and lived/worked. I like that the tone of the text feels conversational as though this is an oral story being passed down to the younger generation.

The mixed media artwork is phenomenal. I like all the texture that the cut-paper adds to the paintings. I also like the quotes and song lyrics that are presented in boxes on selected spreads; they give the artwork a scrapbook feel in the best way.

Back matter includes an author's note detailing how the author became inspired to write a book about Ms. Horne. Also included is a bibliography and a further reading section that offers readers suggestions for exploring Ms. Horne's work in song and on film.

Highly recommended for 3-6+ especially for study during Black History Month, a unit on Civil Rights, or as part of a biography unit; Must see/read!
Profile Image for Heidi.
2,681 reviews53 followers
February 7, 2017
Before reading this book my only exposure to Miss Lena Horne was a brief appearance she made years ago on The Cosby Show. After reading this book I have a much greater appreciation for the talents as well as courage of Miss Lena Horne. Show business has such fame and fortune associated with it that sometimes it's easy to overlook the challenges. And to be a black woman in show business at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws were still in effect was even more challenging. Weatherford does a great job of presenting a simplified version of Horne's life, appropriate for young readers, while still giving a glimpse into the values and beliefs and struggles of a real woman. Zunon's illustrations beautifully complement the text and the short sidebars add interesting tidbits with references to famous quotes and songs presented by Miss Lena Horne. This is a fabulous picture book biography that made me want to know more about a woman who saw and experienced a great deal in her 92 years.
Profile Image for Nancy.
358 reviews34 followers
October 27, 2018
A wonderful book about a phenomenal woman. When I found this gem, I had to add it to my music related children's books, even though I have retired from the classroom. I have always loved jazz and been enamored with Lena Horne having bought her discs in college and heard in her live on Mondavi vineyard in Napa Valley in the late 70's. She was the consummate artist in concert. This book offers children a thorough look at her life, not just of music, but breaking racial barriers and her activism. She was the first black woman to sing with an all white band and the first black woman to land a film contract. Horne did not tolerate the way so many famous minorities were treated in those days. Chased down for autographs while being denied the food and lodging on the road that the rest of their fellow white musicians took for granted. Highly recommended!!
Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 0 books88 followers
February 7, 2017
Lena Horne would turn 100 this year, and The Legendary Miss Lena Horne is a worthy tribute to this icon. Although Horne may be largely unknown to today’s youngest readers, author Carole Boston Weatherford provides an engaging narrative for Horne’s life and career that touches on the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow South, prejudice on stage and screen, the civil rights movement, and ends with a nod to how “black stars now gleam on red carpets and reap box-office gold.” The text is accompanied by Elizabeth Zunon’s bright illustrations that effectively convey both the despair and glamour of Lena Horne. Rarely does a picture book biography so brilliantly capture an important life as well as a century of important periods in American history.
5,212 reviews73 followers
March 24, 2017
Simple introduction to Lena Horne's life. From birth, cover girl as youngest member of the NAACP at 2, auditioning as a teen for the Cotton Club, cutting her first record at 18, sleeping in the bus when she fronted an all-white band, first ever studio contract for a black actress and her one-woman war against black stereotypes, her undisclosed (for 3 years) interraicial marriage to Lennie Hayton, her support of civil rights movement, and her Gramy and Tony Awards, honorary degrees from Howard and Yale, and inclusion in the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Profile Image for Jesse.
2,523 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2017
Picture book biographies are hit and miss for me. I have certain expectations and when they aren't met I can be disappointed (or surprised depending on which way it goes). I look for books that don't have too much text, are formatted like a picture book (rather than nonfiction), and that TELL A STORY. I'm also picky about back matter.

This book checks all my boxes. Bonus: I was so interested in the story that I finished it without my kid. Ha! As someone who had never heard of Lena Horne before that is pretty high praise.
Profile Image for Ms. Hartling.
25 reviews18 followers
October 25, 2017
So its tricky to rate because the pictures are wonderful, the writing is informative. But the style is less than perfect.
Profile Image for Kris Dersch.
2,347 reviews15 followers
March 31, 2020
This was really beautiful. The illustrations are stunning and I think the author did a really nice job of pulling in her whole life, her career, and her activism. The quotes from her music were lovely as were the quotes from her on the frontspiece and back cover which really tied the whole thing together. An extraordinary biography of an extraordinary person. It's long...I'd recommend it for older picture book readers who can take in the detail.
Profile Image for Cindy Richard.
343 reviews8 followers
July 22, 2019
Great story about Lena Horne's activism and acting career highlighted by captivating illustrations. The paintings were so lovely that I wish I had them as art to put on my wall.
Profile Image for M.M. Hudson.
Author 1 book230 followers
July 17, 2017
"You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way."
What a powerful statement that was said by Miss Horne and one she proved time and time again through her actions and words. This book gives a complete account of her life from birth, career, and death(that can be found in bibliography notes).

Growing up, I often saw movies that featured Lena Horne and found her to be a talented and a beautiful woman. Her voice was lovely.

Of course being of "privilege" I had no idea what her life was truly like or what she had to endure to be in those movies. This book gave me an insight to her complete endurance and fight for civil rights. She paved a way for the musical and movies stars of today, they should be grateful that she did. She did it with dignity and head held high.

This book has opened my eyes further about this lovely woman and I am the better for it. I am only sorry that I never met her and that her voice musically and for civil rights is now gone.

One would be amiss to not know about Miss Horne and this book should be in every classroom and homeschool room shelves.

5 stars!
Disclosure: I obtained a copy of this book at my local library. The views here are 100% my own and may differ from yours. ~M.M. Hudson aka Naila Moon
Profile Image for Lisa.
2,250 reviews14 followers
March 19, 2017
Lena Horne was an African American entertainer. She sang with both big bands and jazz bands, danced on stage, starred in movies and even put her career on hold to help fight for civil rights! Lena was an important advocate for civil rights. She refused to perform in movies where she played a maid or a mammy, and saw parts given to white women that she would have been perfect for, except racist opinions and Jim Crow laws prevented the studios from using her talents more. She sang at civil rights rallies and President Truman’s Inaugural Ball. Lena Horne helped pave the way for black entertainers today - she did things her way.

Beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, this brief life sketch hits on many of the most important points of her life. This is a great springboard to a longer biography project or as information for a civil rights project. Includes a bibliography, further reading suggestions and music and video recommendations.

Cross posted to http://kissthebook.blogspot.com CHECK IT OUT!
Profile Image for Stephanie Tournas.
2,166 reviews21 followers
March 24, 2017
This inspiring picture book biography of Lena Horne really shines. From candid descriptions of racism, to the colorful oil paint and collage illustrations, the book succeeds in painting a rich portrait of the African-American singer's long and storied life. I loved that the author didn't flinch in portraying Horne's struggles with cruel Jim Crow rules even as her notoriety soared. Weatherford shows that Horne's struggles - racism, single motherhood, making ends meet - echoed the times and the struggles of Black America. And the illustrations show Horne as successful and beaming in some views, as well as downhearted and angry in others. This gives the subject dimension and relatability, and places her firmly in historical context. Back matter incudes bibliography and sources for further information. The back cover shows Horne as a child, surrounded by books, with the caption: "Lena learned to read before kindergarten; books were her lifelong love."
Profile Image for Jana.
2,592 reviews38 followers
February 12, 2017
As a child of the 1970s, I remember watching Lena Horne singing with Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street. Whenever she would appear on television, she always had the most engaging smile and beautiful singing voice. This picture book biography, takes readers on a journey through her early years and her determination to fight against racial injustices wherever she encountered them. This book is so well-researched and beautifully illustrated that I think that it would be a great resource to have on the bookshelf. For young readers who weren't born before she passed in 2010, this book would be an excellent starting point for further research.
Profile Image for Kay.
238 reviews6 followers
June 30, 2017
Very nice introduction biography of Lena Horne. Great illustrations. The author included the fact that Miss Horne won a Grammy, a Tony and honorary degrees, but did not say for what exactly. It would have been helpful to the reader to include for what specifically those were given, in author's note or on fact page at the end. Her birth date was included in the body of the book but nothing about the date of her death - a timeline would have been helpful.
Profile Image for Debra.
760 reviews
August 16, 2017
There is always a need in a school library collection for more biographies of females, it seems. This one is fabulous, but the life of this legendary vocalist is filled with the strife of racism throughout the journey and is at times painful truth for the reader. Lena Horne was a strikingly beautiful woman and she deserves the future generations to know her civil rights work as well as her music. There is a bibliography, though no timeline.
Profile Image for Kristin.
1,122 reviews31 followers
July 14, 2017
This book focused on the biography of Lena Horne focusing especially on her personal and professional struggles due to racism. Although there were many challenges throughout her life, Lena didn't let them keep her down. Bright, beautiful illustrations accompany this story along with an author's note, bibliography, and further reading/listening/viewing section in the back matter.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 106 reviews

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