Like a Bird

The Art of the American Slave Song

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

Enslaved African Americans longed for freedom, and that longing took many forms—including music. Drawing on biblical imagery, slave songs both expressed the sorrow of life in bondage and offered a rallying cry for the spirit.

Like a Bird brings together text, music, and illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award–winning illustrator Michele Wood to convey the rich meaning behind thirteen of these powerful songs.

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Interest Level Grade 3 - Grade 6
Reading Level Grade 4
Genre Picture Books, Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Traditional Nonfiction, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity
Copyright 2016
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Millbrook Press ™
Language English
Number of Pages 40
Publication Date 2016-09-01
Reading Counts! Level 8.5
Text Type Informational/Explanatory
BISACS JNF018010, JNF025200, JNF036020
Dewey 782.25/3
Graphics Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 10.625 x 8.25
Lexile 1060
ATOS Reading Level 6.3
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 182596
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Original artwork, Reviewed, and Starred Reviews

Author: Cynthia Grady

Cynthia Grady is an author as well as a former middle school librarian and teacher. She lives in New Mexico where she plays music for her two rabbits, Finoa and Banjo. Visit her at

Illustrator: Michele Wood

Michele Wood is an illustrator, painter, and designer living in Indianapolis. Her first book, Going Back Home, was honored with an American Book Award. Wood’s second book, I See the Rhythm, written by Toyomi Igus, received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. After illustrating Cynthia Grady's I Lay My Stitches Down, Wood was honored with the Ashley Bryan Award for Illustration and in 2016, she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for the book Chasing Freedom. Her most recent work, BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, won a Newbery Honor. Wood's work continues to be exhibited in major art spaces across the country.


  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2017
  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, Winner, 2017
  • Land of Enchantment Book Award Readling List Selection, Long-listed, 2016
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, Winner, 2016
  • Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children, Winner, 2016


School Library Journal

“This is an excellent resource for music and art teachers as well as for social studies and U.S. history lessons.”—starred, School Library Journal


“Beautiful illustrations and short, informative paragraphs come together. . . . While excellent for music classes, the wealth of historical context makes this a good pick for lessons on the history of U.S. slavery as well.”—Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

“An important work that gives new life to old and important songs.”—Kirkus Reviews