Books & Literature

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams: Ella Fitzgerald, by Isabel Sánchez Vegara

One in a series of illustrated children’s books about inspirational women. In this edition, the highs and lows of Ella Fitzgerald’s life and singing career are brought into focus to inspire young girls.

Author Isabel Sánchez Vegara had been working in top advertising agencies for more than 15 years when she became an aunt to twin nieces. It was then she realised that, although there were lots of books describing boys and men who were brave and adventurous and had made their mark on the world, this was much less so when looking for similar references to women and girls.

Vegara had no difficulty in thinking of women who had shown equal courage and strength and had enough imagination and self-belief to make their dreams come true and she began to write about their lives. A further aim was to build a fresh perspective between young readers, popular culture, and history and thus the Little People, Big Dreams series of books was born.

The Ella Fitzgerald book tells the story of the artist’s difficult upbringing following the sudden death of her mother when she was only 15. Such a loss was difficult to deal with and Ella found herself sent to a reform school. She ran away and supported herself by singing, something she had always done at home, and dancing in the streets of Harlem – difficult at any time but even more so for a young woman alone in the Depression.

The wonderful illustrations by Bàrbara Alca show the different moods of the singer: her grief at the funeral; her exuberance when dancing in the street; and then her dreaming of the future after she wins a talent contest. The illustrations also remind us that the young singer’s path was not a smooth one with a sketch of Ella standing in front of a ‘Whites Only’ sign. In segregated America, African-American performers like Ella often could not stay in the hotels they performed in or even come in through the front entrance.

At the end of the book is a very short, dated, biographical sketch which provides a little more detail. While the singer’s story covers only the highlights of her life and career it will certainly spark the young reader’s interest, as will the illustrations. It is to be hoped that with the Internet at their fingertips, readers will find out more about Ella Fitzgerald and enjoy some of her fabulous music.

I can highly recommend this book and the series.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  10

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin and available through Dymocks
Released: April 2018
RRP: $19.99 hardcover

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