Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Love Her

Author: Amy Novesky
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (June 18, 2013)
Source: Personal Copy
Audience: Grades 1 to 3
Keywords: Biography, American Jazz, Women Singers

Description from GoodReads:
Billie Holiday—also known as Lady Day—had fame, style, a stellar voice, big gardenias in her hair, and lots of dogs. She had a coat-pocket poodle, a beagle, Chihuahuas, a Great Dane, and more, but her favorite was a boxer named Mister. Mister was always there to bolster her courage through good times and bad, even before her legendary appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Newton’s stylish illustrations keep the simply told story focused on the loving bond between Billie Holiday and her treasured boxer. An author’s note deals more directly with the singer’s troubled life, and includes a little-known photo of Mister and Lady Day.

My thoughts on this book:
Picture Book biographies are difficult on a variety of levels.  How do you condense someone's life down to 32 to 40 pages and most often without a lot of words? Then there is the challenge of what colorful bits of a person's life do you keep in and what do you leave out.  Some individuals made some great contributions to art or music or science or math but along with being absolutely brilliant they often had some interesting character traits which may not be the best thing to highlight in a book written for 7 or 8 year olds.

With that in mind, I appreciate how Amy Novesky tackles the life of Billie Holiday.  In this picture book biography, Novesky shares Holiday's rise to fame and musical contributions through a unique aspect of the singer's life, her love of dogs.  And she certainly loved dogs.  There are at least eight dogs mentioned in this book.  However, the main focus is on a boxer named, Mister.  Did you know Mister had a mink coat? Pretty stylish dog. 

Though Novesky does not explicitly mention that Holiday spent a year in prison for drug possession, she does mention that the singer got into "trouble and had to go away for a year".  The book wraps up with Holiday's return to stage and Mister's presence in the wings on that evening.  The author's note at the end provides more insight into Billie Holiday's life and some additional resources.  Vanessa Brantley Newton's illustration compliment and enhance Novesky's words making this a win-win on several levels.

I am looking forward to including this book in some of the units that I do with students during the school year.  Look for a copy of this book at your local library or independent bookstore.    

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