Illustration of Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, backed by a jazz combo.This is one of those books I wish I’d written. It’s the powerful account of a song, “Strange Fruit,” how it came to be written, how it came to be sung, and the power it exerted on its audience.

I first heard “Strange Fruit” when my husband, a law professor, was preparing a lecture on the way popular culture exerts pressure on the rule of law. He included this video of Billie Holiday singing.


And then I found this wonderful book by Gary Golio, Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song. In clear, unadorned prose, he tells the story of how Billie Holiday became a singer and how she decided to start singing an anti-lynching song composed by a Jewish poet. I was especially moved by the risks she took in her debut of the song and the description of how audiences received the song.

The art is a powerful part of this book. The acrylic paint and tissue paper collages blur representational images with bold abstraction.

Pretty obviously this is a book for older readers, but it speaks directly and passionately to them. It’s definitely one that will join our family’s library.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Millbrook: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.