Review of Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It

Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It
by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Brian Pinkney
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    224 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-316-53677-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-53676-9    $9.99

Spanning roughly three generations, covering the years 1927 to 1968, this lyrical oral history of the fictional Little family gives insight into the complex African American experience of Jim Crow and the long fight for voting rights. Loretta Little, affectionately called ’Retta by her father, grows up in Mississippi a generation or two removed from the Civil War, when enslaved Black Americans were technically freed. However, the practice of sharecropping often led to other forms of servitude, so much so that ’Retta’s father said the family had less freedom than the chickens that roamed the land. Quick-witted and determined, ’Retta perseveres through the injustices and reaches out to celebrate joy when and where she finds it, including an unexpected addition to the family. Found and adopted by ’Retta and her sisters, toddler Rollins (a.k.a. Roly) is a Night-Deep child — left in the woods by parents who’d lost hope in their own circumstances. After the family acquires a small piece of land, the Littles are closer to finding hope, and Roly commits his life to patiently encouraging that hope to grow, first with the family land and later as the father of Aggie B., a spitfire who, when she sees voter suppression and intimidation in her community, becomes a fierce advocate for the right to vote. Divided into three movements, Pinkney’s “monologue novel” immerses readers in the first-person accounts. Through a mix of drama, gospel, and rhythm and blues, and with great immediacy, Pinkney introduces readers to an extraordinary family and provides a compelling testimony of resilience. Moving spot illustrations reinforce the brilliance and strength of the Littles’ “truth-talking.” Back matter includes author’s and artist’s notes, details on the dramatic form, information about sharecropping, and suggestions for further reading.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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