________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004


Singing Towards the Future: The Story of Portia White. (Stories of Canada).

Lian Goodall. Illustrated by Liz Milkau.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon Publishing, 2004.
63 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 1-894917-08-1.

Subject Headings:
White, Portia, 1911-1968.
Contraltos-Canada-Biography - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Grace Sheppard.

*** /4


There was always music in the White home. Their wonderful, inspiring mother always had a song, even though she was often cooking meals for someone from the church as well as looking after her large family. The children were helpful, especially the elder sisters, Helena and Portia, as the younger ones came along. There was wood to fetch, clothes to wash, meals to prepare, and dishes to wash without the help of machines or electricity. Izie was usually wearing an apron and working. However, she was never too busy to share her special gifts – a caring smile and a love for music.


In February of 1996, Dr. Lorne White visited my grade 5 class in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr. White captivated students and teachers with songs and stories about growing up Black in Nova Scotia in the 1940s and 50s. One of the best stories of all, though, was that of his sister, Portia White.

     Lian Goodall captures some of these stories as well as standard biographical information in Singing Towards the Future. This is the first book-length biography of Portia White to be published, and all the details of White’s fascinating life are presented, from her birth in 1911 to her death in 1968. Goodall makes good use of tales of racism and segregation to teach readers that White led a truly amazing life for a Black woman trying to make a career as an opera singer in the 1940s.

     Goodall is very thorough in her treatment of White’s life. Her writing is clear and accessible both for those readers who are doing projects and those browsing the biography section. She clearly has done a lot of research into Portia White’s life and times, and it shows both in the details throughout the text as well as in the appended source list. Unfortunately, the book does not have a table of contents or an index. These missing parts make it very hard to locate information in the short one or two-page “chapters.”

     The book’s design is also wanting when it comes to sidebar information and illustrations. The sidebars are set off from the rest of the page by a column of white space and a smaller, different font in a different colour. The amount of information contained in these sidebars can be overwhelming at times, and it is not always easily linked to the main text on the page.

     The illustrations are generally very good black and white photographs and drawings. The problem here comes with the captions, many of which are missing. This situation leaves the reader to guess who or what is in the illustration based on the text – either in the sidebar or on the main part of the page.

     Deciding whether or not to purchase this book for your collection will really depend on its intended use. It will be much more useful for browsers than those doing projects due to the missing index, table of contents, and captions.

     I came away from the visit with Lorne White with a great appreciation for the wonderful life his sister had led. Hopefully this book will give students across the country a similar chance to learn more about her great spirit, talent, and accomplishments.


Grace Sheppard is a Children’s Librarian with the Ottawa Public Library in Ottawa, Ontario.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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