Cover image for A song for Harlem
A song for Harlem
Publication Information:
New York : Puffin Books, 2008.
Physical Description:
108 p. : ill. ; 19 cm.
Reading Level:
590 L Lexile
Added Author:
In the summer of 1928, Lilly Belle Turner of Smyrna, Tennessee, participates in a young author's writing program, taught by Zora Neale Hurston and hosted by A'Lelia Walker in her Harlem teahouse at the height of the Harlem Renaissance.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Paperback book PB J FICTION MCK 1 2

On Order



A historical chapter book series from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author, Patricia C. McKissack.

For Lilly Belle, ?the capital of Black America? is about as far from her hometown of Smyrna, Tennessee, as a twelve-year-old can get'maybe not in miles but certainly in mindset. Then a summer program for gifted young writers opens a whole new world for Lilly Belle. Jazz music in the street lulls her to sleep, her classroom is in a mansion, and the author Zora Neale Hurston is her teacher, helping her understand the power of words, especially her own. Once again, award-winning author Patricia C. McKissack builds an involving story around real events and famous figures.

"McKissack writes with empathy for the characters as well as a good eye for details that bring the period to life." -- Booklist

Author Notes

Patricia C. McKissack was born in Smyrna, Tennessee on August 9, 1944. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Tennessee State University in 1964 and a master's degree in early childhood literature and media programming from Webster University in 1975. After college, she worked as a junior high school English teacher and a children's book editor at Concordia Publishing.

Since the 1980's, she and her husband Frederick L. McKissack have written over 100 books together. Most of their titles are biographies with a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson. Their other works included Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States. Over their 30 years of writing together, the couple won many awards including the C.S. Lewis Silver Medal, a Newbery Honor, nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?. In 1998, they received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also writes fiction on her own. Her book included Flossie and the Fox, Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt, A Friendship for Today, and Let's Clap, Jump, Sing and Shout; Dance, Spin and Turn It Out! She won the Newberry Honor Book Award and the King Author Award for The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural in 1993 and the Caldecott Medal for Mirandy and Brother Wind. She dead of cardio-respiratory arrest on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-4-In this third title in the series, Gee shares with her three grandchildren the story of her aunt Lilly Belle, who kept journals and had a poem published in Crisis magazine. The aspiring author was 12 when she stayed in Harlem with her Aunt Odessa so that she could attend a writing worshop for young people conducted by Zora Neale Hurston. When Lilly Belle discovered that a snobbish classmate plagiarized the work of a published author, she confronted Alice and learned of her troubled home life. The book ends with Gee telling the children what eventually became of the two girls. End matter includes notes on the Harlem Renaissance. Full-page drawings are scattered throughout. This easy-to-read novel has succinct chapters and sentences that, while simple, convey a feel for the characters and the time, and a vivid sense of place. It should appeal to fans of the series and anyone interested in the era.-Donna Atmur, Los Angeles Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

McKissack's third offering in her Scraps of Time historical fiction for new readers examines the life of fictional Lilly Belle Turner in 1928 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Told by Lilly Belle's niece, Gee, the grandmother with the attic full of historical family artifacts, McKissack's story closely follows the structure of the earlier entries. This time, 12-year-old Lilly Belle wins a writing contest, leaves her family in Smyrna, Tenn. and joins her Aunt Odessa in Harlem for a class with Zora Neale Hurston in the famed salon, the Dark Tower, run by A'Lelia Walker. One of the classmates plagiarizes a story from The Crisis magazine and Lilly Belle is faced with a crisis of her own. The story line is simply an excuse to namedrop the various historical highlights of the Harlem Renaissance: Countee Cullen, W.E.B. Du Bois, the Savoy, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Marcus Garvey. But for newcomers to the period, this will serve as a taste of this rich period in American history. (Fiction. 6-9) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In the third book of the Scraps of Time series, Gee tells her grandchildren about their great-great-aunt. In 1928 Lilly Belle leaves Tennessee for Harlem to attend a young authors' writing program led by Zora Neale Hurston. A wealthy city girl pokes fun at Lilly Belle's country ways, but in the end, they become fast friends. McKissack writes with empathy for the characters as well as a good eye for details that bring the period to life. Especially appripriate for aspiring writers, the themes of finding your voice and telling the truth resonate throughout this appealing chapter book. Historical notes on Harlem are appended.--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2007 Booklist