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Harlem's Little Blackbird



Last updated Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Author: Renee Watson
Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Date of Publication: 2012
ISBN: 0375869735
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Mar. 2013

Synopsis: Zora and Langston. Billie and Bessie. Eubie and Duke. If the Harlem Renaissance had a court, they were its kings and queens. But there were other, lesser known individuals whose contributions were just as impactful, such as Florence Mills. Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.

Note to readers:
•  Florence Mills was a famous African-American cabaret singer, dancer, and comedian. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 32, but broke many barriers during her short life.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Do you know where Harlem is?
•  Do you sing or dance?
•  What if someone told you that you could not do what you love because of what you look like? How would that make you feel?

Vocabulary:
•  Sea billow- a large sea wave
•  Strut- to walk with confidence
•  Mesmerize- to capture someone's attention, to hypnotize
•  Harlem Renaissance- a movement in the 1920's that started in Harlem where African-American art, music, and literature flourished

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  What did they call Florence when she began to sing?
•  How did she become famous by the story's end? What did she have to go through?
•  How do you think Florence felt when people wouldn't let her family in the theater or hear her sing because of the color of her skin?

Craft ideas:
•  Draw a bird using the provided construction paper. Cut the bird out. Write your own song lyrics on the back of the bird. Share your song with the group!

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!