A Voice Named Aretha

by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Author) Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

A Voice Named Aretha
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

From acclaimed author and illustrator pairing comes a beautiful picture book biography about the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and how she fought for respect throughout her life.

Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, a legend. But before she became a star, she was a shy little girl with a voice so powerful it made people jump up, sway, and hum along.

Raised in a house full of talking and singing, Aretha learned the values that would carry her through life--from her church choir in Detroit to stages across the world. When she moved to New York City to start her career, it took years of hard work before she had a hit song. In the turbulent 1960s, she sang about Respect and refused to perform before segregated audiences. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha always remembered who she was and where she came from.

In this stirring biography of a true artistic and social icon, award-winning creators Katheryn Russell-Brown and Laura Freeman show young readers how Aretha's talent, intelligence, and perseverance made her a star who will shine on for generations to come.

Acclaim for Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

  • 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee Outstanding Literary Work--Children
  • 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor
  • 2015 ALA Notable Children's Book
  • 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project - Feminist Task Force
  • 2015 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, Recommended Title
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$16.19 $17.99

Publishers Weekly

Shades of purple and gold predominate in this laudatory picture book biography of the Queen of Soul. Tracing Aretha Franklin's life from her 1940s-'50s childhood in Detroit, singing as part of her pastor father C.L. Franklin's "Gospel Caravan," to performing for President Barack Obama (pictured, but not named), it covers the major moments in the life and career of this musical legend--the death of her mother, her first church solo, the years of work and performance before she had a hit, and her eventual stratospheric success. Franklin's ongoing support of civil rights is a recurring theme: "Aretha sang only where people of all races could attend" and she "performed in lots of concerts to raise money for civil rights groups." Freeman's clear, crisp illustrations add welcome vibrancy to the text's straightforward narrative style. Additional biographical information and extensive notes from the author and illustrator are included. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 1-2--Shy young Aretha Franklin found her voice singing in the choir at her father's Detroit church. An early family tragedy taught her to draw strength from her sadness and use her talent to inspire and empower those around her, like the civil rights icons of her generation. Franklin's power shines through lush illustrations in bold, royal colors. In one scene, the singer is dressed in a sunshine yellow dress. President Obama wipes away a tear as he listens to Franklin. A sense of time and place are evoked with striking choices in hair and dress, visually emphasizing her indelible place in American culture. The text effectively describes the singer's ties to the civil rights movement and spotlights her importance as an enduring symbol of hope. VERDICT This richly detailed look at the Queen of Soul is an essential biography of an American icon.--Savannah Kitchens, Parnell Memorial Library, Montevallo, AL

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

An excellent introduction to an American icon. - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

This richly detailed look at the Queen of Soul is an essential biography of an American icon. - School Library Journal, starred review

This beautifully illustrated look at the life of the world-renowned Queen of Soul is a sensational introduction for young readers to the artist's life and body of work. - Booklist

Hits the highlights of Franklin's life. . . . Freeman's illustrations . . . capture much of the body language, facial expression, and head-thrown-back joy associated with Franklin's performance. - BCCB

Franklin's ongoing support of civil rights is a recurring theme....Freeman's clear, crisp illustrations add welcome vibrancy to the text's straightforward narrative style. - Publishers Weekly

Russell-Brown's debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose. - Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE

An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story. - Starred review, School Library Journal on LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE

Staccato rhythms pepper the fluid prose. - Publishers Weekly, starred review, on LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE

Katheryn Russell-Brown
Katheryn Russell-Brown is an American social scientist, professor of law, and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at University of Florida Law School, with a specialty in race and crime, sociology of law, and criminal law. She is also the author of Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, A Voice Named Aretha, and She Was the First!, for which she was won the NAACP Image Award in 2021. Katheryn lives with her family in Florida. Visit her website at krbrown.net, or follow her on Twitter @KRussellBrown.

Kim Holt is a children's book illustrator who holds a BFA in animation from the Academy of Art University. Her goal as an artist is to create images that bring back memories and create pictures that make children wish they were inside the scenes. She is also the illustrator of Today Is Different and A Prayer for Our Country. Kim lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and two dogs, where she drinks copious amounts of coffee and cooks up imaginative dinners for her family. Visit her website at kimscollectionofstuff.com, or follow her on Instagram @kimholt.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date
January 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF007040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Music
JNF036020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Music | History
Library of Congress categories
United States
African American singers
Franklin, Aretha
Soul musicians

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