Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone

Alice Briere-Haquet
Illustrator:  Bruno Liance 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017   ISBN: 978-1580898270

One night Nina’s little girl is having a hard time falling asleep and so Nina tells her the story of her life. Nina describes how she looked at a piano when she was three years old and saw how the thirty-six black keys were smaller than the fifty-two white ones. Nina’s teacher explained that the white keys were whole notes and the black ones where half notes.

Nine soon discovered that out in the world people behaved as if “Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge white ivory keyboard.” Nina refused to accept this idea. Instead, she chose to believe that, like music that has no color, people too had to live as if there was no color barrier separating them.

For some years Nina studied the music of Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. Then, when she was twelve, Nina was asked to perform in her church. Nina’s mother made her a new dress and she was incredibly proud of her talented daughter. On the night of the concert, it was made clear that Nina’s mother was expected to give up her seat in the front row for a white person. Nina’s anger at this injustice boiled to the surface and she took a stand. Nina’s mother deserved to sit in the front row.

In this unique picture book children will get to ‘meet’ Nina Simone, a musician who charmed the world with her musical gift. Nina also raised her voice to protest against the injustice of racism and segregation. In her dream for the future “Black and white people could come together in the big dance of life.”