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Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights up the Stage

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights up the Stage

by Alan Schroeder, Cornelius Van Wright (Illustrator), Ying-Hwa Hu (Illustrator)

A biography recounting episodes from the early life of "Baby Florence" Mills, an internationally renowned entertainer of the Harlem Renaissance era who began her career as a child.


A biography recounting episodes from the early life of "Baby Florence" Mills, an internationally renowned entertainer of the Harlem Renaissance era who began her career as a child.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Growing up in Goat Alley—“in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, ”—Florence Mills loved to sing and dance. At age three, she began performing for local businesses and, although she burst into tears during her first stage performance (she received abundant applause anyway), Mills’s reputation as a singer began to grow among the elite of Washington. Despite Mills’s and her family’s poverty, the watercolor illustrations from the husband-and-wife team of Van Wright and Hu have a joyous glow; young Mills almost always has a smile on her face and a lively pose to match. End pages provide photographs of Mills (1895–1927) as an adult and a detailed description of her career as an entertainer—one that ended early, when she died of tuberculosis at age 31. Ages 6–11. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Cheryl Williams Chang
Baby Flo is a lovely nonfiction book about Florence Mills who sailed to stardom in the early 1920's. Florence began singing and dancing when she was just three years of age. She was a happy, vibrant child with an engaging personality. Starting on the small stage and dealing with racial prejudice, Florence continued to impress people. Audiences could not get enough of her delicate singing voice and her wonderful dancing ability. In 1917, when she was 21 years old, she joined a vaudeville act. In 1921 at the age of 25, she joined the cast of Shuffle Along and became the most popular black female entertainer in New York. Florence had many admirers including Charlie Chaplin, Duke Ellington, and Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson. She went on to perform at a hugely successful cabaret show at the Plantation Room in New York, and then she sailed to London to perform in Dover Street to Dixie. Florence was a sought after performer, and people enjoyed working with her. Then, sadly and suddenly she came down with tuberculosis in 1927, and passed away at the age of 31. Thousands of people showed up for her funeral in order to honor her. Both interesting and entertaining, this book offers colorful and large illustrations and easy to read text. This book will fit nicely in an elementary school social studies or history classroom. Reviewer: Cheryl Williams Chang
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—Mills started singing for others at the age of three in Goat Alley, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, DC, as she made laundry deliveries with her mother. Her dancing won many contests by the time she was six: she was a darling of the city's elite and her name was in lights at the local Bijou Theater by the time she was seven. Little Florence's beginning years as a performer are highlighted here as she enchanted those who admired her fast-flying feet and ability to sing popular favorites with unfettered joy. Narrative text set in a rather small font includes exuberant dialogue as soft watercolor scenes from full-page spreads to small portraits reveal the love on the faces of her family and impromptu audiences. This brief memoir traces Baby Florence's steps as she grows in size and confidence from the beaming smiles of her cakewalk to church or her bubbling energy in a simple shuffle-ball-change step. Maturing at the height of the Jazz Age, Mills was beloved by top entertainers of her age: Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Paul Robeson, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Charlie Chaplin. An author's note is enhanced by photos of the adult Mills and commentary about her successes—her singing and dancing in the U.S. and abroad, her "flair for comedy"-and her tragic death at age 31 from tuberculosis. An accessible biography of a prominent Jazz Age personality.—Mary Elam, Learning Media Services, Plano ISD, TX
Kirkus Reviews
Florence Mills, dancer and singer, was the sweetheart of the Harlem Renaissance. From childhood, Baby Flo entertained her family and her neighbors in Washington, D.C. Her parents put her on stage when she was 3 years old, entered her in cakewalk contests and had her entertain the rich and powerful at their homes. Fame came early in the vaudeville production The Sons of Ham. Mills went on to perform to great acclaim in stage productions in New York and in London. Unfortunately, she died in 1927 at the age of 31 and was mourned by thousands at her Harlem funeral. Duke Ellington's composition "Black Beauty" is believed to have been written in her memory. Schroeder concentrates his story on her very early years, leaving her exciting adult career and life to a lengthy afterword. The watercolor illustrations feature a perpetually smiling Flo, smiling family, smiling neighbors and smiling passersby. She is not well known today because there are no known recordings or film footage, and unfortunately, this title presents an overly perky perspective on an African-American performer born to former slaves. There should be a better balance between the actual text and the information in the author's note. Kudos for the effort, but a more illuminating text and more suitable illustrations would have made this a much better title. (author's note, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 3-7)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.60(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.50(d)
640L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 Years

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