Cover image for How high the moon
How high the moon
1st ed.
Physical Description:
314 pages ; 20 cm.
Eleven-year-old Ella seeks information about her father while enjoying a visit with her mother, a jazz singer, in Boston in 1944, then returns to the harsh realities of segregated, small-town South Carolina.


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To Kill a Mockingbird meets One Crazy Summer in this powerful, bittersweet debut about one girl's journey to reconnect with her mother and learn the truth about her father in the tumultuous times of the Jim Crow South.
"Timely, captivating, and lovely. So glad this book is in the world." --Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming

In the small town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in 1944, 12-year-old Ella spends her days fishing and running around with her best friend Henry and cousin Myrna. But life is not always so sunny for Ella, who gets bullied for her light skin tone and whose mother is away pursuing a jazz singer dream in Boston.

So Ella is ecstatic when her mother invites her to visit for Christmas. Little does she expect the truths she will discover about her mother, the father she never knew and her family's most unlikely history.

And after a life-changing month, she returns South and is shocked by the news that her schoolmate George has been arrested for the murder of two local white girls.

Bittersweet and eye-opening, How High the Moon is a timeless novel about a girl finding herself in a world all but determined to hold her down.

Author Notes

Karyn Parsons is best known for her role as Will Smith's ditsy cousin Hilary Banks on NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air . After leaving acting behind, Karyn has gone on to found and produce Sweet Blackberry, an award-winning series of children's animated films, to share stories about unsung black heroes in history, featuring narration from stars such as Alfre Woodard, Queen Latifah, and Chris Rock. It's been screened on HBO and Netflix, and enjoyed by schools and libraries across the country. How High the Moon is Karyn's self-authored debut novel.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1943, 11-year-old Ella Hankerson's African-American mother has moved to the buzzing metropolis of Boston to become a jazz singer-far away from Ella's small town of Alcolu, S.C., where she lives with her grandparents. Ella doesn't know who her father is-just that he headed out west-but she's sometimes teased for her white facial features, and she wonders if he could be Cab Calloway. When Ella's mom sends a telegram asking her to visit for Christmas, Ella plans to show her just how much she's grown up. Life is often dangerous and unjust for Ella and her black family and friends in the Jim Crow South, and Boston poses new challenges. Her mother works all day at the navy yard and sings in jazz clubs at night, leaving Ella in her tiny apartment, and the visit is over all too soon. Chapters alternate between Ella's narration and the stories of cousins Henry and Myrna, who live back home, where an innocent black teen is unjustly accused of two murders. Parsons' debut novel offers a complex exploration of Northern and Southern racial tensions and one girl's bumpy path toward knowing herself. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

As compelling as Brown Girl Dreaming, as character-driven as One Crazy Summer, and as historically illuminating as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Eleven-year-old Ella Hankerson yearns to know her absent father, but her mother, Lucy, and grandparents constantly evade her questions. Teased by other black kids for her light skin and white-seeming features, Ella indulges in wild speculationmaybe it's Cab Calloway? Lucy has left Ella in Alcolu, South Carolina, for work and a jazz career in Boston, and although Granny and Poppy provide a loving home for Ella and two of her cousins (who share narration duties with Ella), 14-year-old orphan Myrna and Ella's best friend, 12-year-old Henry, the rural South in the 1940s can be dangerous for black folks. Racists charge George Stinney, a quiet, shy boy, with murdering two little white girls, and Myrna once encountered a black family lynched and hanging from the trees. Although Ella eagerly leaves the farm to stay with her mother, she finds Boston also imperfect, as she must spend hours alone in the tiny apartment while Lucy and her roommate, Helen, work as shipfitters. A riveting read, this novel masterfully presents Southern and Northern conflicts through the perspective of a no-nonsense kid who is trying to find her place in the world. Ella's realistic voice and passionate responses to injustices make her a credible, flawed, and likable character who sees the truth in front of her but often doesn't recognize it.A captivating novel that sheds new light on black childhood. (Historical fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Ella, 12, lives in Alcolu, South Carolina. It's 1943, so segregation is in full force. But Ella's mother is in Boston, working in the navy yards by day and singing in jazz clubs at night, and when Ella goes to live with her, the girl's eyes are opened to a different sort of life. Though the story is Ella's, her cousins Henry and Myrna, also raised by the trio's grandparents, share the narration. The story is crammed with issues: Ella's search for her white father; the excitement and disappointments of living with her mother; the arrest and execution of Myrna's boyfriend, George, for the murder of two girls; even a hint of a same-sex relationship between Ella's mother and her roommate. The book is at its best when the focus is on Ella. Her lively first-­person narrative holds readers' attention, making Henry and Myrna's appearance at times a distraction. Despite a need for streamlining (and more emotional heft to George's story), this has some wonderful voices and character interactions, and an evocative cover will draw readers.--Ilene Cooper Copyright 2019 Booklist