Carole Boston Weatherford–Becoming Billie Holiday

The What: Ms. Weatherford tells the story of Billie Holiday’s life in the first person, and in verse. She follows the singer from her parents’ meeting to her success in young adulthood. The poems are accompanied by illustrations by Floyd Cooper.

The Good: A novel! In verse! About Billie Holiday! With illustrations! Can you hear the happy? Weatherford takes the titles of Holiday’s songs as titles of and springboards for her poems. The result is a series of poems that reflect the life and art of this incredible woman. There are so many facts woven deftly into the lines, and they shed light on how Lady Day came to sing with such authority and insight. I love her music, but didn’t know much about her life; the inclusion of anecdotes as small as Billie being upset by a fly stuck in a car with her gave me a better understanding of the person, rather than the singer. Her early life was full of turmoil and disappointment, violence and abandonment. It makes the singer she became all the more impressive.

The Meh: Given that this story is being told in verse, I found much of the verse prosaic. I longed for the poems to have some sort of form constraint, rather than being whole sentences divided into seemingly arbitrary lines. That’s solely a personal aesthetic choice, and is no reflection of Ms. Weatherford’s talent as a writer.

Hand It To: Poetry fans, teens who are looking for a biography, Nancy Pearl’s language readers, and of course fans of Lady Day