Curating Children's Books

Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It

Loretta Little Looks Back

When I read Loretta Little Looks Back (Little, Brown Books 2020), written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney, I knew it was an important book to review.  It’s about people brave enough to tell their truths, and the truth I’m telling you today is that you need to read this book.

In Loretta Little Looks Back, Andrea Davis Pinkney uses the oral tradition of storytelling to provide a moving and historically accurate account of how African Americans fought for the right to vote in Mississippi.  The stories are told in first person narrative by three members of the Little family:  Loretta (1927 to 1930), Roly (1942 to 1952), and Aggie B. (1962 to 1968).  Like a play, each chapter begins with the narrator’s when and where.

Then, with the help of Brian Pinkney’s powerful and moving illustrations, the characters pull back the curtain to reveal the story of their lives.  When the play is produced, it will be breathtaking and life changing, just like the book.  I hope I can be at opening night!

First off, Loretta Little herself.  She is the youngest daughter of a sharecropper in Mississippi and lives with her father and two older sisters.  Loretta shares her disappointment at having to leave school and work in the cotton fields.  She reflects on the casual dehumanization caused by Clem Parker, the landowner, intentionally mispronouncing her father’s name and never keeping his word.  Loretta notes that even the farm animals have more freedom than the sharecroppers, who are slaves in all but name.

The next narrator is Roly.  As a baby, he was found in the fields under a winter moon and taken in by the Little family.  He shares his hopes and loves, as well as his heartbreaks and fears.  Growing up to be a sharecropper and eventually a landowner, he is challenged by the same limitations faced by Loretta’s father.

Aggie BFinally, it’s time for Roly’s daughter, Aggie B., to tell her story.  Aggie B. is bold and ready for change.  Inspired by Cassius Clay and Wilma Rudolph, Aggie B. believes in progress.  And when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee comes to town, Aggie B., age 12, jumps at the opportunity to raise her hand and join the fight against Jim Crow.  Aggie B.’s courage and persistence take her all the way to the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

This book is a poignant reminder of all the people who have fought for justice and all the people needed to continue the fight for change.  Every time a person, young or old, stands up and speaks their own truth, we come one step closer to the dream.  This book will encourage and empower readers to share their own go-tell-its, and like Aggie B., take action now.

Sit-In: how four friends stood up by sitting downThe Pinkneys have been together for over 30 years and collaborated on over 20 children’s books, including Loretta Little Looks Back.  Be sure to check out their many beautiful picture books.  Just to name a few favorites: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King (Scholastic Press 2018), Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song (Little, Brown Books 2013); and Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (Little, Brown Books 2010).

Although a review for another day, Bird in a Box (Little, Brown Books 2011), written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Sean Qualls, is one of my all-time favorite middle grade books.  Bird in a Box tells the story of three courageous children during the Great Depression.  These children face many challenges, but when their lives intersect, they find friendship, family, and love.  Interwoven into the story is the hope created by the great boxer, Joe Louis, as he fights to become the heavyweight champion.  Let’s go, mighty Joe.  Battle Like the Alamo!


4 thoughts on “Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It”

    1. My aunt, who lived to be one hundred and could still recite the Gettysburg address, was at a lunch counter in Columbus Ohio when a man of color was refused service.
      She asked him what he would like and ordered it for him. A bright moment in history.

  1. Powerful review. I’ll never forget when in the 60’s, Johnny first took me home to meet his family in Pine Bluff, AK and I saw the Restroom signs, Men, Women, Colored and water fountains labeled, Whites (refrigerated) and Blacks (just tap water). It was shocking and horrible!

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