Tuesday, February 7, 2017

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Lift Your Light a Little Higher/The Legendary Miss Lena Horne


Grab your lantern and follow the remarkable and world-famous Mammoth Cave explorer—and slave—Stephen Bishop as he guides you through the world’s largest cave system in this remarkable homage to the resilience of human nature.

Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.


In a book that is both beautifully illustrated and lyrically written, the reader is introduced to Stephen Bishop. Like all too many slaves there isn't a lot known about the man, but what is known forms the foundation for this fictionalized biography.  With so many gaps in the knowledge about Bishop, the author has had to fill in some of those gaps with imagined thoughts and feelings.  The story is told from Bishop's perspective and gives young readers a glimpse into what it may have been like to be a slave.  I found the book touching fascinating, especially the parts about Bishop's exploration of the Mammoth Cave system, the creation of a map by a basically illiterate slave, and Bishop's learning to read by watching tourists write their name on the cave itself.  Collier's illustrations are amazing as usual.  And the author and illustrator notes at the end of the book are informative.  This makes for a great introduction to a remarkable, but little known individual.


Celebrate the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress and civil rights activist, with this inspiring and powerful picture book from award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress.

But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling.


Before reading this book my only exposure to Miss Lena Horne was a brief appearance she made years ago on The Cosby Show.    After reading this book I have a much greater appreciation for the talents as well as courage of Miss Lena Horne.  Show business has such fame and fortune associated with it that sometimes it's easy to overlook the challenges.  And to be a black woman in show business at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws were still in effect was even more challenging.  Weatherford does a great job of presenting a simplified version of Horne's life, appropriate for young readers, while still giving a glimpse into the values and beliefs and struggles of a real woman.  Zunon's illustrations beautifully complement the text and the short sidebars add interesting tidbits with references to famous quotes and songs presented by Miss Lena Horne.  This is a fabulous picture book biography that made me want to know more about a woman who saw and experienced a great deal in her 92 years.

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