Strange Fruit

Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 - Grade 6
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever.

Discover how two outsiders—Billie Holiday, a young black woman raised in poverty, and Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants—combined their talents to create a song that challenged racism and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement.

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Interest Level Grade 3 - Grade 6
Reading Level Grade 4
Genre Picture Books
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity
Copyright 2017
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Millbrook Press ™
Language English
Number of Pages 40
Publication Date 2017-02-01
Reading Counts! Level 5.6
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF036040, JNF007040, JNF018010
Dewey 782.42165
Graphics Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 9.25 x 11
Lexile 870
ATOS Reading Level 4.8
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 187709
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Afterword, Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Original artwork, Reviewed, Source notes, and Starred Reviews

Author: Gary Golio

Gary Golio is an artist and acclaimed picture book author. His Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow was a New York Times bestseller. Find out more about him at

Illustrator: Charlotte Riley-Webb

Charlotte Riley-Webb, a professional visual artist with a career that spans more than 40 years, resides in the Atlanta area. Find her online at


  • ALA Notable Children's Books, Winner, 2018
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Winner, 2018
  • Kirkus Best Children's Books, Winner, 2017
  • NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, Winner, 2017


Publishers Weekly

“[A] potent reminder of the power of art to combat intolerance and hate.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

“This is not an easy book, but it is powerful—just like its theme. Consider for guided in-depth discussions on Billie Holiday and U.S. history.”—School Library Journal


“The format and back matter make this most useful in a classroom setting, but it will be effective in prompting a discussion about one of the darkest times in U.S. history.”—Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

“Lynching: a strange and difficult but important topic for a song—and for this picture book. . . . A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

Carole Boston Weatherford

“With poignant text and striking art, Golio and Riley-Webb put this anti-lynching hymn in context for young readers. Provocative yet age appropriate, this book is not only a window to past violence but a mirror for horrors unfolding today.”—Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Becoming Billie Holiday