Review of Nina: A Story of Nina Simone

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone
by Traci N. Todd; illus. by Christian Robinson
Primary, Intermediate    Putnam    64 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-06-291564-1    $19.99

Pianist, singer, and composer Nina ­Simone was born Eunice Waymon in rural North Carolina in 1933, a child “who had music on the inside.” Treated by turns as a prodigy, curiosity, and nuisance, after high school Eunice left North Carolina for NYC and Juilliard. After a series of indignities and disappointments, she began performing at a nightclub in Atlantic City; her growing fame led Eunice to change her name to Nina Simone in an attempt to hide her “unholy” music from her mother. At the same time, the momentum of the ongoing civil rights movement was a “relentless, demanding” drumbeat that proved impossible to ignore; and as Simone felt more pressure (internal and external) to speak out against racism, she decided she was done playing nice, as politeness “had gotten her people nothing.” Robinson (You Matter, rev. 9/20; Milo Imagines the World, rev. 3/21) punctuates this section with flame-like cut paper and sooty smudges symbolizing the “steady, rising roar” of injustice, culminating in a double-page spread showing Nina and her band playing against a fiery backdrop. Todd ends her unflinching narrative with a perfectly placed, direct-address line: “And when she sang of Black children — you lovely, precious dreams — her voice sounded like hope.” This unexpected, yet needed, outpouring of love is the perfect end to a stunning book. An author’s note “About Nina Simone” and a bibliography are appended.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sam Bloom

Sam Bloom is a programming librarian at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library in northern Kentucky.

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