I’m on a roll with these blog tours, aren’t I? Look, a lot of great opportunities caught my attention at the same time and I couldn’t say no! In this case, I’m particularly glad that I didn’t because this book… y’all, this book made me feel some kind of way. We’ll be talking about my favorite quotes and my own voices reflections in a moment, but I just want to a second right now to say this was I N C R E D I B L E!
I would also like to take a moment to thank Hear Our Voices Book Tours for letting me participate in yet another one of their amazing book promotions! And, of course, a huge thank you to not only HOV, but the publisher, Little, Brown for Young Readers, for sending me a finished copy in exchange for my participation and honest review. And, of course, please check out the other amazing content creators on this tour by clicking HERE!
Alright, let’s get to it!
“From a bestselling and award-winning husband and wife team comes an innovative, beautifully illustrated novel that delivers a front-row seat to the groundbreaking moments in history that led to African Americans earning the right to vote.
“Right here, I’m sharing the honest-to-goodness.” — Loretta
“I’m gon’ reach back, and tell how it all went. I’m gon’ speak on it. My way.” — Roly
“I got more nerve than a bad tooth. But there’s nothing bad about being bold.” — Aggie B.
Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B., members of the Little family, each present the vivid story of their young lives, spanning three generations. Their separate stories — beginning in a cotton field in 1927 and ending at the presidential election of 1968 — come together to create one unforgettable journey.
Through an evocative mix of fictional first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths, gospel rhythms and blues influences, Loretta Little Looks Back weaves an immersive tapestry that illuminates the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South. Inspired by storytelling’s oral tradition, stirring vignettes are presented in a series of theatrical monologues that paint a gripping, multidimensional portrait of America’s struggle for civil rights as seen through the eyes of the children who lived it. The novel’s unique format invites us to walk in their shoes. Each encounters an unexpected mystical gift, passed down from one family member to the next, that ignites their experience what it means to reach for freedom.”
- Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney
- Visual Art: Brian Pinkney
- Publisher: Little Brown for Young Readers
- Publication date: September 29th, 2020
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Age group: Middle grade
- Content/Trigger warnings: Graphic description of violence, racism
About the Authors
Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of nearly 50 books for young readers, among them The Red Pencil and A Poem for Peter, as well as several collaborations with her husband Brian Pinkney, including Sit -In and Hand in Hand, which received the Coretta Scott King Book Award.
Brian Pinkney has illustrated numerous books for children, including two Caldecott Honor books, and he has written and illustrated several of his own books. Brian has received the Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustration and three Coretta Scott King Book Award Honor medals. The Pinkneys have been named among the “25 Most Influential People in Our Children’s Lives” by Children’s Health magazine. They live in Brooklyn, New York.
My Review + Favorite Quotes
“Loretta knows – don’t look down when you’re looking back.
And don’t never back down when it’s time to meet memories face-on.
Loretta’s eyes, front. Her gaze, steady.
She is ready.
Prepared to tell it.”
When I tell you that this book had an impact on my soul, y’all. I went into this expecting an interesting middle grade story about sharecropping and the Civil Rights Movement. Don’t get me wrong… this is what Loretta Little Looks Back delivers, but in such a poignant and impactful way that I was left a little bit shook.
This is the story of three generations of the same family. We start with Loretta Little, growing up on a farm where her family are sharecroppers. We then move on to Loretta’s adopted brother, Rollins Little, who has a way with plants. Lastly, we get to see the story of Aggie B. Little, Rollins daughter who is coming of age when the Civil Rights Movement is gaining traction. All of their stories interweave into a gripping tale about the life and struggles of Black sharecroppers in the rural South.
“Some say, this what they call oration. I call it truth-talking. Standing up to speak on what-all I remember. Recollecting.”
My favorite aspect of this book has to be how it is presented. It is told in a monologue style that completely wraps you up in the story as it’s being related. I want someone to make this a play because I would take my family to see it in a heartbeat! The narration flows down the family line and each voice we encountered is unique and powerful. You feel Loretta’s rage when her father is cheated out of pay he rightfully earned. You feel Rollins slowly getting beaten down by a system that is stacked against him. You feel Aggie’s yearning to do, to be, to make not only her life better, but those of all the Black folks living under Jim Crow. This story has been told before, but the style in which it is told makes it hit on a different level.
“To me, Clem Parker might as well have been pinching Daddy every time he came ahead with his Giddyuuup nonsense. A pinch doesn’t hurt that bad once, or twice even. But when somebody keeps nipping you over and over, it starts to eat at your skin. When the pinch comes with a smug smile, the sting brings more pain.”
I also loved the frank look at how deeply racism can affect people in this book. The above quote hit me hard because it doesn’t just focus on the overtly racist actions of people, it talks about how microaggressions are designed to wear you down. The entire book rings with truths that are phrased in excellent ways to make it understandable for the younger age group the story targets. Not easier, mind you. Reading about racism shouldn’t be easy. But understandable.
“People say to don’t let a White person know how truly smart you are, else they’ll take it out badly on you.
But that’s negativity at work, making you believe not to believe in your own abilities. Since I do how I do, I was not going to hide none of it.”
Though we’re talking on some pretty bleak subject matter, though, this book as a beautiful current of stubborn perseverance and hope running through it. It’s a part of each of our main characters, Loretta, Rollins, and Aggie, in varying degrees and one of my favorite parts about all three of them. And can we talk about the characters?! I have never felt this attached to a set of fictional folks before. I dunno if it’s partly because my maiden last name is Little or that some of their stories make me think of stories my own father has told me (he grew up during the Jim Crow era), but I was just in awe of how layered and richly imagined they were. I found myself so attached to them and, not gonna lie, there was a certain part of this book that was really painful to read because of that attachment. See my trigger warning for graphic violence… But I also appreciate that the author doesn’t shy away from something that was a huge part of the fight for our rights.
I tried to explain to Aunt ‘Retta that every test had different questions. That if we went to the courthouse again, there would be a new set of pages. Tried to tell her, too, that most of the questions were made-up and, no matter what, couldn’t be answered. Aunt ‘Retta wasn’t having it.
Said, ‘Well, smarty, here’s some questions for you. Are you a Little?’
Said, ‘Are we people who quit when asked to walk backwards, draw a line through stupidity, or vote standing on our heads?’
I giggled. Shook my head. Tossed a funny question back to Aunt ‘Retta.
Asked, ‘If Jim Crow dies, who succeeds?’
She and me answered together.
Said, ‘We do.'”
Speaking of the Civil Rights Movement, I think my favorite character to follow was Aggie B. because we get to see the movement as it was born. It’s so interesting and, not gonna lie, heartbreaking to see what Black people had to go through just to vote in the South. The phony tests, the poll taxes… all of these were things I knew about, but never get any less heated about when I encounter it in whatever context. This book does a phenomenal job of presenting these injustices to a young crowd in, again, a very accessible if not easy way. You feel Aggie’s frustrations, her pain, and her feelings of fierce triumph at any win, no matter how small. And, especially in today’s social climate, I appreciated the reminder that people bleed and fought for us to get where we are today. Am I tired of Black people having to bleed for basic rights? Hell yes I am. But this book still gives me hope for the future by taking a look at how far we’ve come.
Final thoughts: This book is the entire package. It’s told in a unique style, blending monologues, poems, and illustrations to fully captivate the reader. The characters feel like they could be people who actually lived, people who might be somewhere on your family tree if you happen to be Black. They are multifaceted with rich, strong voices that hook you in to their story. The looks at sharecropping, Jim Crow, and racism are frank. This book doesn’t shy away from the hardships, but it always leaves you feeling hopeful. Loretta Little Looks Back should not only be required reading for children, but for adults, as well! If you’re looking for a story to help talk about the history of racism in this country with a younger audience, I think this would be a smart choice.
Also, can someone make this a play now? Kthanks!