‘‘We love the theater,” Andrea Davis Pinkney said about the inspiration for the novel she created with her husband, artist Brian Pinkney. “Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It” is a book that you can read and perform.

The book is written like a play, with three characters describing their lives in short, vivid speeches called monologues. For the illustrations, Brian uses color like stage lighting, to highlight characters and reflect their emotions. The book cover’s deep yellow is the color of hope and of a special glass marble that appears throughout, he said.

The story follows three members of the Little family — Loretta, her younger animal-loving brother, Roly, and her brave niece Aggie B. — in rural Mississippi from 1927 to 1968. Brief stage directions and simple props make the pieces easy to perform. For example, one monologue begins with young Aggie B. seated at the family table, “writing furiously,” in her notebook.

The Littles appreciate their farm and lively animals, including a playful goose named Cakewalk, but, as African Americans, they must frequently deal with the racism of those who seek to demean them and undermine their hard work. One important way to create change is to vote, but in the 1960s, Black people are often threatened if they try to register or appear at the polling place. Aggie B. is determined to help others vote, even though, at age 12, she is too young to do so herself.

“Aggie B. is using her voice,” Andrea Pinkney told KidsPost by phone from the home she shares with Brian and their two children in Brooklyn, New York. Like Aggie B., “you can do that by talking about your opinions and ideas, and the books you read, even if you can’t vote.”

Andrea mentions two causes for which young people today have been especially vocal: Black Lives Matter and the climate crisis.


Andrea and Brian trace their passion for the theater to their childhoods. Andrea remembers being 5 years old and watching the Black actress Pearl Bailey in the musical “Hello, Dolly!” Brian recalls the fascinating “swirl of movement and color” at performances of the Alvin Ailey dance company.

Andrea was also influenced, she said, by listening as a kid to grown-ups as they talked on the front porch during summer evenings. Loretta, Roly and Aggie B. are based on her relatives who worked the land in Culpeper, Virginia.

As a youngster, Brian liked to playact with the toys he made. His father is the children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney, and his grandfather was a carpenter. “I grew up expressing [myself] through making and building,” he said.

Virtual performing

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Pinkneys are doing only virtual book events.

The upside is that they can reach more people, Andrea said. And viewers can see and talk with Brian as he works in his artist’s studio. They might even glimpse a toy he made when he was 10 years old, a horse that he sewed and stuffed with newspaper.

For kids interested in performing the book, Andrea has a few suggestions: Try it with family at home or give “Zoom performances” with friends. A teacher might also help students stage it during their online school day.

Reading parts of the book out loud, even alone, lets a reader slip into another’s voice and experience a time that, although more than 60 years ago, connects with today’s concerns about voting and social justice.

Virtual event

What: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney discuss “Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It,” with Jason Reynolds, the Library of Congress’s national ambassador for young people’s literature.

Hosted by: Politics and Prose in Washington.

When: September 30 at 7 p.m.

How much: Free but must register for ticket in advance at bit.ly/3kMIOvM.

Best for: Ages 9 and older.

For more information: Visit www.politics-prose.com/events.