Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It

Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney Brian Pinkney (illus.)
Review by Susan Lowell

This marvelous creation is more than a novel. It is a “page-to-stage” narrative, magicked out of family stories and American history and narrated by three voices who vividly “go tell” about the Little family, Black sharecroppers in Rulesville, Mississippi from 1927 to 1968.

The Littles are not little. Their intelligence, courage, patience, and passion for justice are huge—like the civil rights that they work and suffer to achieve. In spoken (sung, chanted, screamed, thundered) words and strong yet tender images, the lavishly talented Pinkneys transport their readers into the skins of three very distinct characters: Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B. Little. We feel with them. Our votes are suppressed, our dignity trampled. Billysticks break our bones. It’s truly hard to believe this is a novel.

Presented in theatrical format, the book is perfect for reading aloud and acting out. Ms. Pinkney’s handling of dialect is masterly, and she writes lyrical text that the book’s designer has handled with great imagination. Although it teaches many lessons and includes a section of extra information at the end, Loretta Little Looks Back isn’t didactic. It’s tough, warm, lovable, and occasionally magical. Its type size and pictures suggest a children’s book. But its contents and artistry reach out to all ages. It makes adult fiction of social commentary like The Grapes of Wrath seem tedious.