Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage

Alan Schroeder
Illustrator:  Cornelius Van Wright , Ying-Hwa Hu 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Lee and Low Books, 2012   ISBN: 978-1600604102

Little Florence lived in Goat Alley, one the poorest neighborhoods in the great city of Washington D.C. Her mother Nellie was a washerwoman and she would sing to comfort herself as she worked. Often she would invite her littlest daughter to sing with her, and Flo would happily sing along, warbling “like a little bird.”

   One day, when they were dropping off some clean laundry at the butcher’s shop, Nellie asked three-year-old Flo to sing for the butchers, which Flo did, even though she had never sung in public before. The extraordinary sweetness of her voice moved the butchers to reward her with money and when they went home Nellie found out that her daughter had earned three dollars and eighty-five cents. Her daughter had made more money than she had!

   A few months after her debut in the butcher’s shop Flo stood on a stage and sang a lullaby. One would think that being able to sing was more than enough of a gift for one little girl, but she could dance as well, and dance she did. She quickly learned the most popular dance of the time, the cakewalk, and soon she was entering (and often winning) cakewalk contests all over the city. By the time she was six she had a sizeable collection of medals.

    Baby Flo, as people called her, began to have a reputation, and people, rich and powerful people, wanted to see her dance. They would send their carriages to Goat Alley to collect the little girl and she would perform for them in their plush homes.

   Then Baby Flo entered another contest to dance a difference dance. Though she did not win, her performance delighted the audience, and convinced the manager of the theatre that Flo was a true performer, and he invited her to perform in his theatre. No one knew then that Flo was only just beginning what would be an illustrious career on the stage.

   In this delightful picture book the author captures the bubbly and plucky personality of a little girl who loved to sing and dance, and who was willing to use her abilities to help out her family financially. Readers will find it hard not to smile as they read about the little girl who could lift up people’s hearts with her songs, and make their feet tap and their hands clap when she danced.

   At the back of the book there is an author’s note where readers can find out more about Florence Mills’ life and her amazing gift for entertaining.