Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her
by Amy Novesky
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Billie Holiday had lots of dogs: a poodle she carried in her pocket, a brown and white beagle, two Chihuahuas she fed with a baby bottle, a Great Dane, a wire-haired terrier and a mutt. But her favorite dog was a boxer named Mister.
She knit him sweaters, dressed him in a mink coat, cooked for him and took him for midnight walks. He waited for her in her dressing room when she performed and served as a sort of bodyguard.
It's a clever idea to frame a children's story about Billie Holiday around her beloved pets. Unfortunately, there isn't enough of a plot in this story for it to hold readers' attention. The climax takes place off-stage, when Holiday "gets into trouble" and has to "leave home for a year and a day" (during the period in which she is sentenced to prison for drug possession).
While there is no appropriate way to address this adult topic in a picture book for young children, the mysterious absence serves only to set up a joyous reunion with Mister when Holiday returns from prison, and then he waits in the wings when she returns to the stage for her comeback performance at Carnegie Hall.
The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton have a scrapbooky feel that is appropriate to the historical glamour of the subject matter, and the first graders I read this story to enjoyed the images of the dogs. On the whole, though this book will appeal more to adult fans of Billie Holiday than to the youth audience for whom it was intended.
Amy Novesky is the author of Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, which Publisher's Weekly called, "a rich and unexpected depiction of a treasured artist." She lives in Northern California with her family. www.amynovesky.com
Vanessa Brantley Newton is the author-illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and the illustrator of One Love by Cedella Marley. She lives in North Carolina with her family.
Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.