[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Drumbeat that Demands Justice in Nina’s “Raging Storm of Song”

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading theme throughout the year, when we can.

This year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Traci N. Todd Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by: G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Younger Readers (2021) ISBN: 9781524737283 (ISBN10: 1524737283). Literary Award: Coretta Scott King Book Award Nominee, Illustrator (2022) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

This picturebook biography provides a detailed narrative of Nina Simone’s life story, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on 1933 in North Carolina. I was fascinated by the entire story, especially from a talent development perspective: how the young Eunice learned to play the piano from her father, and how she needed to find a White benefactor for her talent to truly flourish. The book creators also surfaced how this ‘benevolence’ is double-edged, predicated upon Nina ‘knowing her place’ and necessitated the entire community’s financial help for the lessons to continue.

I find it noteworthy how Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson did not shy away from the many injustices young Eunice had to contend with as a talented Black girl, and how she stood grounded and firm on what she knows to be right and true.

Her pathway to recognition was not smooth. Just when she thought her talent and hard work were enough for her to realize her dreams, she was confronted with rejection after rejection that nearly made her give up. With a glass of milk in hand, she continued playing and playing, until her voice was heard over the airwaves and changed the face of American music.

I found the image above especially compelling. It surfaces how becoming a part of a movement is not always a matter of choice. What probably sets this picturebook biography apart from others is how it juxtaposes Nina’s personal narrative with societal events – and how one influenced the other, and shaped Nina’s music for years to come. There is also a detailed Afterword and a list of bibliography for teachers and parents to scaffold young people’s understanding of Nina’s journey as a musician.

Here’s Nina Simone singing I Put A Spell On You to provide the perfect spell-binding background music as you find yourself a copy of this award-winning book.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 13 out of target 100

February 2, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal