R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul Book Poster Image
Dazzling art captures Aretha's career and activism.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This breezy intro to Aretha Franklin's life and career includes more biographical detail in an author's note at the back, along with a list of her biggest hits. Kids may learn some vocabulary and spelling as each spread highlights a spelled-out theme like "B-L-E-S-S-E-D" on a picture of young Aretha praying, or "V-O-I-C-E" when she's in the recording studio, or "P-R-O-U-D" at Obama's inauguration when she sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Kids can read the messages on picket signs to understand what protesters in the civil rights movement were fighting for. 

Positive Messages

Use your God-given gifts. Stand up for what's right. 

Positive Role Models

Aretha is a positive role model for kids and grown-ups. Her parents split up and we learn in an author's note that her mom died when she was young, but she went on to greatness and never gave up. Her dad was flawed (his infidelity caused her mom to leave), but he was a great source of support for Aretha both personally and professionally. 

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison, won the 2021 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. This vibrant picture book uses dynamic art and spare rhyming couplets to effectively tell Aretha's story, from learning gospel music from her parents, playing the piano, and recording her first album at 14 to singing for President Barack Obama's inauguration. It's a wonderful tribute to a great artist. An author's note gives more biographical deatial, and there's also a list of Franklin's biggest hits for kids to check out.

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What's the story?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  ARETHA FRANKLIN, THE QUEEN OF SOUL is an exuberant look at the life of one of America's greatest artists. It starts with a look at her childhood in Memphis, where she learns gospel music from her mother and pastor father. "Hand-clapping gospel -- the Franklins' pedigree./ Parents, children praise the Lord in stirring harmony." Then her parents split up and she and her dad and sibings move north to Detroit. Aretha records her first album at 14, gets involved in the civil rights movement and performs at demonstrations. Eventually, she performs at the inauguration of the first Black president, Barack Obama. 

Is it any good?

This dazzling take on Franklin's life tells her story in gorgeous paintings and spare couplets that sweep readers up in a world of love, music, joy, civil rights activism, and religious spirit. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul features many close-ups, like of her strong hands playing the piano or her intense face as she sings at a microphone. The backdrop of her era is well done, too, with civil rights demonstrations portrayed in black-and-white, in stark contrast to the book's other vibrant colors, with famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry Belafonte shown but not mentioned in the text.

The author keeps up the motif used in her famous song "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" by spelling-out themes on the spreads like "B-L-E-S-S-E-D" on a picture of young Aretha praying, or "V-O-I-C-E" when she's in the recording studio, or "P-R-O-U-D" at Obama's inauguration, where she sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee." This is a poetic, artistic tribute to the Queen of Soul. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the art in R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. How do you like the illustrator's style? Which picture is your favorite? Why?

  • How much did you know about Aretha Franklin before you read this book? What did you learn that you didn't know? Does reading this book make you want to listen to her music?

  • Do you know of any music stars who've performed at protests? What cause were they standing up for? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music and Black history

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