Becoming Billie Holiday

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Overview

Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora's journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could possibly change her life—a voice. Eleanora could sing. Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with ...

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Overview

Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora's journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could possibly change her life—a voice. Eleanora could sing. Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with some of the era's hottest big bands. Billie Holiday sang as if she had lived each lyric, and in many ways she had. Through a sequence of raw and poignant poems, award-winning poet Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Eleanora Fagan's metamorphosis into Billie Holiday. The author examines the singer's young life, her fight for survival, and the dream she pursued with passion in this Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner. With stunning art by Floyd Cooper, this book provides a revealing look at a cultural icon.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

In this fictionalized memoir, Weatherford has composed nearly 100 first-person narrative poems that detail Holiday's life from birth until age 25, the age at which she debuted her signature song, "Strange Fruit." The poems borrow their titles from Holiday's songs, a brilliant device that provides readers with a haunting built-in sound track. Weatherford's language is straightforward and accessible-almost conversational. She captures the woman's jazzy, candid voice so adroitly that at times the poems seem like they could have been lifted wholesale from Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues . Cooper's sepia-toned, nostalgic, mixed-media illustrations provide an emotional counterpoint to the text. Resembling old photographs seen through a lens of aching hindsight, they make explicit the pain that Weatherford studiously avoids giving full voice to in her poems. Although Holiday's early life was one of relentless rejection, discrimination, and poverty, the author stays true to her subject and maintains a resolute and defiant tone, albeit one tinged with regret. Prostitution, rape, jail time, and violence are mentioned, but the book ends on the proverbial high note, before the singer's drug use, alcoholism, and early death. This captivating title places readers solidly into Holiday's world, and is suitable for independent reading as well as a variety of classroom uses.-Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD

Kirkus Reviews
"I toted my songs / like a satchel and felt most / at home when I sang," says Billie Holiday in this gorgeously produced fictional "life in poems" of the great jazz singer. Weatherford's poetry sings Lady Day's blues, from a troubled childhood in Baltimore to success in Harlem and on the road, though a tough road it was. Holiday never knew her father's love and experienced rape, reform school, jail and vicious racism in a land where "the color line / was as plain as the stripe down a highway." The first-person poems, titled after actual songs, conclude with Holiday at her peak at age 25, singing her signature "Strange Fruit." The poetry is rich and evocative, fully up to celebrating a singer who could "breathe a universe in a single note." Cooper uses his trademark subtractive technique to great effect, providing a beautiful visual complement to the poetry. A remarkable tribute well worthy of its subject. (afterword, bibliography, references, further reading and listening) (Poetry. 14 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590785072
  • Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 776,981
  • Age range: 11 - 15 Years
  • Lexile: 970L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Carole Boston Weatherford is an award-winning poet and author of over two dozen books for young readers. She lives in North Carolina.

Floyd Cooper has brought his artistic vision to more than sixty books and over two thousand book jackets. He is a recipient of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, as well as three Coretta Scott King Honors, ten ALA Notables, and an NAACP Image Award, among other honors. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2009

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    An entertaining and adept view of Billie Holiday's life and work

    I feel like "experience" is a truly fitting adjective for this text. I would actually recommend it to children and adults alike, not only because of the richness in historical value, but also because the stories of Holiday's life that are told through this medium create a rich experience for all readers.

    I believe, however, that Weatherford's most phenomenal accomplishment with the text is that it communicates the story in a very similar way to the songs and jazz style of Billie Holiday-her signature style of singing just behind the beat, improvising in subtle but profound ways. All of that, although not represented in the same way, is brought to life throughout the text. I recommend this to all readers.

    -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com

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  • Posted October 30, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Julie M. Prince for TeensReadToo.com

    Billie Holiday does not have a happy life story. After all, she sang the blues for a reason. A biography written in verse seems only appropriate for a woman who lived her life in song -- whose only reliable escape was via music.<BR/><BR/>Weatherford uses Holiday songs as poem titles throughout the book, which, in addition to the first person perspective, serves to bring the reader close to the narrative. While the story of Holiday's life is disturbing, Weatherford does a fantastic job of pulling readers in for an occasional close-up, and in giving them much-needed distance -- room to breathe.<BR/><BR/>Subtlety is key, and both author and artist seem to realize the delicate balance. <BR/><BR/>Floyd Cooper used a subtractive technique for the gorgeous illustrations, meaning he used erasers to make shapes and then enhanced them with mixed media. The heavily textured, sepia tones flow seamlessly into the verse.<BR/><BR/>Then we have the book itself, smooth to the touch, but grainy and old school. Billie Holiday all over. This publisher, Wordsong, created a perfect marriage of author & artist, then packaged the work brilliantly in a book for the ages.

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