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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Book Review

A Song for Harlem by Patricia C. McKissack has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the "Scraps of Time" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

When youngsters Trey, Aggie and Mattie Rae find an old magazine in the attic, Grandma tells them the story of her aunt Lilly Belle:

It's the summer of 1928, during a period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Twelve-year-old Lilly Belle is chosen to participate in a seminar for young black writers, far from her Smyrna, Tenn., home. She spends six weeks in Harlem with her Aunt Odessa, studying with 17 other students under author Zora Neale Hurston. Lilly Belle becomes friends with a boy named Melvon. Her other new friend, a girl named Cora Mae, leaves the program early due to homesickness. A wealthy student named Alice hastens Cora Mae's exit with repeated jabs about the girls' Southern upbringings.

Lilly Belle soaks in Zora's wise teaching, does her writing homework with Melvon at a local restaurant, takes in the city with Zora and her classmates and tries to slough off Alice's taunts. Zora raves about one of Alice's stories, but Lilly Belle discovers Alice stole it from another author. Lilly Belle offers to go with Alice to tell Zora the truth. She even urges the teacher to give Alice a chance to make things right. Alice begins doing her homework with Melvon and Lilly Belle and finds her voice in writing about her overbearing father. At the program's closing event, Lilly Belle shares her poem, "A Song for Harlem," about her time in the city.

Back in the attic, Grandma tells the kids Lilly Belle later became a reporter in Pittsburgh. When a baseball catches the kids' attention, Grandma paves the way for another "Scraps of Time" book by promising to tell them about the Negro Leagues after lunch.

Christian Beliefs

Aunt Odessa ensures she and Lilly Belle arrive fashionably late for church so Odessa can show off her outfit. Lilly Belle notes her mother would never approve of tardiness to church for such a vain reason.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Lilly Belle's parents and Aunt Odessa encourage her to share her writing with the world. Zora imparts her wisdom and experience, and urges her students to write from their hearts. A'Lelia Walker, sponsor of the writing program, shares her wealth to promote the arts and support new black writers. Alice's father is a wealthy man with high expectations for Alice but spends little time with his daughter.





Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

While this story is fictional, many of the characters, including author Zora Neale Hurston and patron of the arts A'Lelia Walker, are real. Historical black publications and performers are also mentioned. Author Patricia C. McKissack includes a brief history of the Harlem Renaissance in the back of the book, as well as some key black organizations of the time.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 11


Patricia McKissack






Record Label



Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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