Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Odetta: The Queen of Folk

Odetta: The Queen of Folk

Stephen Alcorn, Samantha Thornhill
Illustrator:  Stephen Alcorn 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Scholastic Press, 2010   ISBN: 978-0439928182

Odetta was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Though she was shy, Odetta loved to make “a whole / heap of noise” playing her aunt’s piano. She liked to imagine that she was a famous musician who was being applauded by a thrilled audience. Unfortunately, Odetta’s aunt did not like the noise that her little niece made, and Odetta had to stop banging away on the piano keys.

Back in those days, Jim Crow laws ruled the lives of people of color living in the south. Everywhere Odetta went, Jim Crow told her what she could and could not do. Finally, her mother told Odetta that their family was moving to Los Angeles in California. Perhaps there they would have more freedom and better opportunities.

Sure enough, in Los Angeles, Odetta was able to drink from any water fountain that she wanted to. Here at last was a place where Jim Crow laws could not make her feel “bad” about herself.

When Odetta was a teen, her mother was finally able to afford piano lessons, and the girl with music in her blood learned how to make beautiful music instead of noise. She also began to sing, and then she picked up a guitar and combined her voice with the strumming of the strings. She began to sing and perform folk music, and used her musical ability to embrace the old spirituals. Through her music she supported the Civil Rights Movement, and her hope was that one day all people would be free. She believed in her heart that, just like the keys on a piano, blacks and white can live together to create “Harmonious sound.”

Stephen Alcorn is a huge fan of Odetta and her music. Moved by Odetta’s incredible story, Stephen came up with the idea for this book. In it, his illustrations are paired with Samantha Thornhill’s rhythmic poetry to give readers a memorable tale that will uplift and inspire them.