A Little Piece of Sky

( 8 )


A poignant, powerful debut that combines the deep emotion of The House on Mango Street with uniquely creative storytelling.

Unfolding in a series of tiny vignettes, A Little Piece of Sky introduces an endearing new novelist and a truly unforgettable main character. In the first few chapters we meet a little girl named Song Byrd, who keenly reports on the world around her. She is African American (in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood), unwanted (conceived during an adulterous ...

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Little Piece of Sky

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A poignant, powerful debut that combines the deep emotion of The House on Mango Street with uniquely creative storytelling.

Unfolding in a series of tiny vignettes, A Little Piece of Sky introduces an endearing new novelist and a truly unforgettable main character. In the first few chapters we meet a little girl named Song Byrd, who keenly reports on the world around her. She is African American (in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood), unwanted (conceived during an adulterous affair), and poor in the material sense but extraordinarily rich in spirit.

In piercingly insightful prose, Nicole Bailey-Williams takes readers on Song’s journey through life as she struggles against outsider status and intense guilt over her mother’s murder. Behind it all, places of pure joy, “dreaming the hurt away,” and glorious little pieces of sky shine through. Song’s tales--and Bailey-Williams’s narrative gift--are truly words to treasure.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Searingly beautiful. Mrs. Bailey-Williams' impressive debut is nuanced, stark, and astonishing."
-Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Blues Dancing

"Crisp, clean, and clear narration. Nicole Bailey-Williams has got what it takes, and you've got to read it."
-Omar Tyree, author of For the Love of Money

"In a word, captivating. I found myself instantly drawn into Song's world, a place filled with emotion, struggle, and eventual triumph. We can only hope to see more page-turning works by this vibrant new voice on the literary scene." -Patricia Haley, author of Nobody's Perfect

"A powerful voice that moves smoothly between narrative and poignant drama. Her clear and fresh voice reads like poetry." -William July II, author of Understanding the Tin Man

Publishers Weekly
This story of an African-American girl who beats the odds is certainly familiar, but Bailey-Williams's spare narration and concise prose establish her as a new author with a powerful voice and plenty to say. Song Byrd was born into the ghetto of North Philadelphia with an absent father, a mother who turns to prostitution, a sister who steals to support her drug habit and a brother who winds up in prison for raping an elderly woman. What saves Song is her inner strength and the attentions of a neighbor named Miss Olga, but her pivotal break comes on the heels of tragedy, when her mother is shot by the girlfriend of one of her paramours. Song moves in with her father, although the girl still battles the guilt she feels over her mother's death. That guilt leads to a revelatory sequence of chapters in which Song sees a therapist and comes to terms with her past, while negotiating a new relationship with a young man named Anthony. The narrative appeals, but what really makes the book work is the incisive, succinct and compelling prose, which turns a simple story into an insightful character exploration. Bailey-Williams's success will ultimately rest on her ability to take her plots in different directions, but this debut marks her as a promising figure in this genre. Agent, Kate Garrick. (Oct. 8) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This familiar story of an African American girl who somehow manages to beat the odds is lifted above similar tales by concise and evocative prose that often reads like free verse. The scenes of Song Byrd's early life in the ghetto are the best, providing stark descriptions that make the reader feel as if he or she were there. Song has everything going against her-a bad neighborhood, an absentee father, a prostitute mother, a drug-addicted sister, and a rapist brother. What she has on her side are her kindly neighbor, Miss Olga, a strong sense of self, and her refusal to become a victim. When her mother is murdered, Song goes to live with her father and proves that she can thrive, attending college and then becoming a successful fundraiser for foundations that help kids who are in the same situations she once was. She is held back by the guilt she still feels from her mother's death, but with the help of a therapist and an understanding young man named Anthony, she frees herself at last. More an in-depth character study through connected vignettes than a plot-driven piece, this novel will draw teens through the gritty realism of Song's early life to cheer when things finally turn around for her. This debut novel from an English teacher turned freelance writer and cohost of a radio literary review program is recommended for most libraries serving older teens, especially where contemporary realistic fiction is popular. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Broadway Books/Random House, 161p,
— Susan Smith
Library Journal
Like a gifted quilter, Bailey-Williams has stitched together the pieces of a woman's life to form a seamless portrait of survival and healing. As a child, Song Byrd is burdened with poverty and abuse: her alcoholic single mother locks her in the bathroom, her sister steals to buy drugs, and one brother is always in jail, while the other is a wanderer. When Song's mother is murdered, her life takes a sudden and unexpected turn, and she must confront feelings of guilt as she grows up. Bailey-Williams, a high school English teacher, has written a debut that reads like an urban diary, filled with hardships but also acts of love and kindness, told matter-of-factly and without melodrama. Her refusal to make Song a victim is refreshing, and her ability to convey so much feeling in so few words makes this novel almost a prose poem. Highly recommended, particularly for young adults. [Harlem Moon is a new paperback imprint focusing on books for African Americans.-Ed.]-Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L., IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767912167
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,208,253
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

NICOLE BAILEY-WILLIAMS is a high school English teacher and has written reviews for Black Issues Book Review, and Publishers Weekly. She is the cohost of "The Literary Review," a book review show that airs on WDAS radio in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. A graduate of Hampton University, she received a Master's degree from Temple University. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband.
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Read an Excerpt


My mother was always running away. I suppose it’s only natural because she came from a long line of runners. Her grandmother ran away from Virginia to Connecticut, where she worked as a cleaning woman in a hotel. Her mother, my grandmother, ran away from Connecticut to Philadelphia, where she settled on the southwest side, long before the airport was built. My mother ran away, but not as far as her foremothers had run, for she had too much baggage to carry, and this was no easy task for a solitary woman. She simply got on the trolley one day, and when she looked out the window, she saw a kite the color of water dancing in the sky. She gathered up her things and bustled off the trolley, trying to follow the kite that was free. She walked and she walked and she walked, struggling with her load, chasing the liberated kite, which she never could catch. Eventually, she got tired and sat on a step to catch her breath. That was where she planted herself. There in the section of North Philly teeming with golden, tan, cream, and bronze people. She heard the cadence of their tongue and decided that she loved them, for they, too, were travelers. They, too, felt that they didn’t belong in one place, so they packed up their things and ventured to a new place. My mother never could understand why they would leave the place that God had kissed with sun long before the conquistadors came, but she respected their bravery, so there she stayed, waiting for the kite the color of water to remember her and come back.

My Inner Self

My eyes are like burnt coal. They are so black that they match the night sky, the same one that the slaves must have seen through the cracks from the belly of the drifting beast. They say that the eyes reveal the soul, but nobody ever bothered to look into my eyes, so they never saw me or my inner self.

My inner self is beautiful. My inner self dances like Dagoberta. It sings like Sylvia. It leaps like Lydia. It moves like Maria. It somersaults like Selena. My inner self is so beautiful that I go there to stay when no one else wants me. I feel like the glorious beauty of my inner self should radiate outwards so that the world can see. But it doesn’t, so they don’t.

My Outer Self

The skin I’m in is dark brown like a coffee bean. My face is so shiny that I’m ashamed because I unwittingly defy conventions of beauty. I’m really not that bad-looking, but people don’t see that. They simply look at this shiny-faced black girl, and they wish they don’t see me. But sometimes they do.

They see my crinkly, kinky, unruly hair. The hair that laughs at neat ribbons and tidy barrettes. They see my long, skinny legs, interrupted only by a knobby, ashy knee, not unlike a giraffe, on each leg.

I remember sitting on the steps one day after Zelda had just called me an ugly, black spider. I remember everybody laughing and pointing at my ever-growing legs. I wouldn’t let them see me cry, but my soul was paining me. I looked down at my legs and dreamed of all the places they would carry me some day. I dreamed and I dreamed until I dreamed the hurt away.

Miss Olga’s Kitchen

Wisdom sits at the tables of Black women. It also occupies a seat at the tables of Latinas as well. Miss Olga, who battles her own demons, watched from the window as Zelda and the others took aim at me again.

“Venga aquí,” she said to me as she started down her from steps. “Go inside,” she ordered, pointing at her door.

Before I reached the door, I heard Zelda yelp in pain. When I turned to look, I saw Miss Olga dragging her down the street by the ear. The sight of loudmouthed Zelda being humbled by someone she had written off set me off in gales of laughter.

Inside Miss Olga’s, I examined the pictures that lined the fake fireplace. I recognized a few as a young Miss Olga. In one black-and-white shot, she stood next to a white man who gazed lovingly at her while she held a large rose to her nose. In another shot, she sat with her back to his chest. Her hands were folded over her protruding belly, and his hands were over hers. With each photo, I traced Miss Olga’s life with her husband, right up until his funeral. As I stared at a picture of Miss Olga standing in front of a closed casket, I thought of the saying that I had heard, about it being bad luck to take a picture with a dead person because it doesn’t allow their spirit to rest. When Miss Olga entered the house behind me, I was wondering if that applies if the casket is closed.

“Stop being nosy and come in the kitchen,” she ordered.

I sat in the chair that Miss Olga pulled next to the stove while she rummaged through a drawer. The flame on the stove danced blue and flared up when Miss Olga slammed a straightening comb down on the eye. Wordlessly, she parted my hair and rubbed grease into my scalp. The searing heat of the comb nearing my scalp unnerved me, but I sat still for fear of being burned. Once she finished straightening, she began curling, her long, agile fingers moving the handles so that the barrels clicked.

When she finished, Miss Olga stood in front of me with a mirror. I couldn’t believe how my hair looked. Where small, tight curls once reigned, straight hair with delightfully curled ends now resided. I didn’t think my hair could ever look like this. I never took the time to try it, and certainly no one else ever did.

I looked at Miss Olga through a watery haze. Silently I stood and walked to the door. From the step I quietly said thank you to the first person to ever do an unconditional deed for me.

A Little Piece of Sky

I never have the heart to look up when I’m outside, but when I’m locked in the bathroom, that’s what I do. Above the roaches, above the water spots, above the peeling paint, I can see a little piece of sky.

One evening while I was looking up, I heard it all unfold downstairs beneath my feet. My mother rushed in and scurried across the floor. She didn’t close the door behind her, but rushed into the dining room and opened the breakfront. I could hear her jangling the dishes. I heard her curse and mumble, and then I realized that she was looking for the gun that she had kept hidden away in the soup tureen. But it wasn’t there. I knew because I had taken it to my room to examine it one afternoon while my mother was sleeping. Then Caramia had come, looking for something to take to the altar. I didn’t want her to wake my mother and upset her, so I had given the gun to her so that she could sell it. So that she could ease her pain.

Now, downstairs I heard a second voice. It shouted, “Didn’t I warn you to keep your black ass away from him? You couldn’t stay away. Now you will.”

Then I heard a pop. Then a thud. Then feet calmly walking away.

I stood in the bathroom, screaming up at the sky. The sky that had betrayed me and my mother by giving us a false sense of hope. I screamed even after I heard the sirens outside, even after I heard the voices downstairs, even after Miss Olga shushed me from the other side of the door, until she kicked it in.

She looked at me with sadness in her eyes before reaching out to me. I resisted her arms because I needed confirmation. I needed to hear it.

With eyes as melancholy as a drooping African violet, she told me. She said, “Esta muerta, niña. Esta muerta.”

And on that day, I vowed never to look up at the sky again because I do not deserve hope. I killed my mother.



It’s the color of the deepest part of the ocean. The part where dreams sink and huddle together like skeletons from the Middle Passage.


It’s the color of Billie’s voice. She had no choice. It just filled her body like a deadly gas.


It’s the color of a winter day when it’s too cold to grow anything but stems of sadness, which are perennials.


It’s the color of the gumball that stains your tongue. It stains it so dark that people laugh, and you don’t know why they are laughing at you. Then you think of the gumball and remember its deep shade.


It’s the color of poor Maria’s lips as they pulled her from the pool where she dove in search of her father.


It’s the color of the vein that Caramia searches for.


It’s the color of loneliness.


It’s color of the bruise on your back when you thought that you were too dark for the beating to cause a mark.


My Greek Ancestor

In school I read the story of Oedipus. Had I been Greek, he might have been one of my ancestors. Those deformed feet carried him far, but not far enough to be free. Just like my mother, and come to think of it, just like Sojourn.

The truth, or suspected truth as was the case, was too much for Oedipus to face. So he consulted the oracle for answers, just as my mother consulted the Ninth Street fortune-teller and Sojourn asked some chick on the psychic phone line. None of them got satisfactory answers, but the prediction made for Oedipus was even more tragic. He was told that he would marry his mother after killing his father. Boy, I sure hope that it’s not fated for me to marry my father. I’ve already fulfilled the first part of the prophecy. Maybe I should start running, too. But what would be the point? The story of Oedipus tells us that we can never escape who we are. We can never outrun our fate. Does that mean that we never try?

These Feet Attached to Skinny Legs

These feet attached to skinny legs have slapped barefooted on a dirty wooden floor. They have stepped over used syringes. They have scampered into the house away from would-be bullies. They have scurried away from bad places that threatened to suck me in.

They have stumbled up marble stairs in my father’s house. They have soared over hurdles on the track. They have skidded through the sand at the end of the long jump. They have strutted down the aisle at my high school graduation. They have sauntered across the stage to accept my diploma as the first Byrd woman to graduate.

Now these feet attached to skinny legs will stride through the halls of Spelman College. They will be shaped by the steps of those sisters who came before me. They will set me on the path to a promising tomorrow.

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Reading Group Guide

A Little Piece of Sky Reading Group Guide

In deceptively quiet prose, Song Byrd examines some of humanity’s most powerful facets: anguish and hope, identity and self-esteem. Her story stirs an urge for dialogue about memories, society, and visions for a wiser future. The questions that follow are designed to enhance your reading group’s discussion of A Little Piece of Sky and to spotlight particularly insightful passages. We also hope to enrich your personal exploration of this poignant novel.

1. In the first chapter, what does the kite represent to Song’s mother? Has its meaning changed when it reappears near the end of the book, in the chapter called “In My Dream”? Why is the kite the color of water?

2. Song spends most of her life believing that she was responsible for her mother’s death. As painful as that belief is, does it also help Song cope in some way? Why is it so difficult for her to let go of the notion that she caused her mother’s shooting? Why is it significant that Song gave her sister the gun in an attempt to be helpful (thereby gaining Caramia’s love)?

3. In “A Happy Day,” Song and her neighbor, Miss Olga, delight in simple pleasures such as going to the mercado and planting seeds. Was there a Miss Olga in your childhood–a special adult who served as confidante and comforter? Do you fill that role for any young people?

4. Discuss Philadelphia as an ironic choice of residence for Song’s mother. Why did she stop running there? Do the novel’s characters find liberty or brotherly love in their part of the city?

5. At the height of her career achievements, Song is still haunted by the emotional injuries of her past. How does this trauma play out in her life? What does it take for her to become more accepting of herself?

6. Like many women in her situation, Song feels ashamed of the very therapy that will help her feel less shameful. She won’t even allow any insurance claims to be filed, for fear that someone will find out she’s seeking help. Why does therapy still carry a stigma for some?

7. Miss Olga’s Ocho Orders say a lot about her unique life experiences. Drawing on your past, what pearls of wisdom would you add to the list?

8. How does Linda’s story affect Song? What kept Song from falling into a deadly relationship as well?

9. In “Healing IV,” Song says, “I just struggle with the straddle,” referring to the clash between her poverty-stricken past and the affluent circles she encounters as a fund raiser. In “Return to the Judge’s House,” she says that the party made her feel “as if I had just walked into the vortex of a vanilla cyclone.” What do these uncomfortable roles say about the definition of “success”? What effect do they have on Song’s self-confidence? Where does Song not feel alienated?

10. Exploring imagery and tone, what transformation do you see from morning to noon, and from noon to night?

11. In spite of her early attempts to change her physical appearance (through hair relaxers that aren’t very relaxing, for example), Song manages to maintain a perception of her inner self as beautiful. What keeps that tiny part of herself from succumbing to the sadness around her? Why do you suppose Nicole Bailey-Williams chose curvature of the spine as one of Song’s burdens?

12. In “Mi Padre,” Song’s father quotes her mother: “I ain’t got nothin’ left to give. I gave my love. I have my heart. All I got left is my song.” How does this affect your perception of Song’s mother at that point? How does that scene compare to the chapter entitled “My Birth”?

13. The structure of A Little Piece of Sky is unusual; brief chapters, all conveyed in first person, alternating between past tense and present. How do these devices affect the storytelling? At any point did you forget that the book is a work of fiction?

14. In “My Inner Self,” Song refers to the night sky seen by her ancestors through cracks in the ship that heaved them across the ocean. She too kept her eye on the sky during the terrifying hours she spent locked in the bathroom. In what other ways does Song’s life story mirror African American history?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    Wonderully written

    I met the author a few years ago, very friendly and welcoming. She introduced herself and at the time it was her new book. At first I was a little hesitant about purchasing her book, becuase of it's price. I think that it was about $14.00 and it wasn't that many pages. To make a long story short, I purchased the book. It was the best $14.00 I had ever spent. This story is very capturing and heart felt, I enjoyed it very much. Nicole is a very wonderful writer, her story is told poetically. The courage that unfolds from the main character is amazing. I loved this story and recommend it to anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2003

    Simply Beautiful

    A Little Piece of Sky is a wonderful book. It's inspirational, uplifting, and will have you crying joyous tears for the main character, Song Byrd. This book has beautiful imagery and important sage advice about life and accepting yourself. I highly recommend this book for anyone, especially teenage young ladies. I encourage everyone to read A Little Piece of Sky. It will make your heart smile.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2002



    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2002

    The most heart touching story that I ever read.

    A Little Piece of Sky, had to be a true story. Wonderfully written, the author writes like a poet. Althoug this is one the saddest stories that I have ever read, I loved it. Do not allow the story's title to fool you...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2000

    This is an absolutely wonderful book!!!

    I was absolutely floored by A Little Piece of Sky! I just came online to find out where I could order more for friends as graduation gifts and the like. My son brought this book home from a signing by the author and I just happened to pick it up because it had a very interesting cover and because quite honestly it was a small book (having just over 100 pages). I was not able to put the book down it was like reading poetry, a lot of small little stories that come together to tell a beautiful and powerful tale about a young woman who you just cheer for throughout the book. I was definitely moved by this book and I just want to share it with all of the people I love. It is not too long, just a perfect story. To be perfectly honest I don't really do much reading (especially not fiction) so my next comment might not mean too much, but this book is simply the best book I've ever read. It makes me want to read more. I can't wait to read more by this author. Does anyone know if she's written anything else?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2000

    Little Peice of Sky is remarkable

    I enjoyed the book 'Little peice of sky' very much. It is a great book. It is very poetic and is a real page turner; I couldn't put it down. You will love it too. This is a great book for people in Middle School on up, so I suggest that you read this book and i hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012


    She yawned

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