Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Patricia Hruby Powell, Author, Christian Robinson, Illustrator
Patricia Hruby Powell, illus. by Christian Robinson. Chronicle, $17.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-4521-0314-3
Reviewed on: 11/04/2013
Release date: 01/01/2014
Open Ebook - 104 pages - 978-1-4521-2971-6
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Segregated American clubs were willing to let African-American dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975) perform, but they wouldn’t let her use the front door. Powell (Frog Brings Rain) chooses a potent metaphor for Baker’s hidden anger: “hot magma, molten lava, trapped within.” When Baker arrived in France, the country embraced both her artistry and her blackness, and “Her deep volcanic core—filled with emotion, filled with music—erupted.” Robinson (Rain!) draws round faces gazing with amazement at the woman onstage whose pearl necklace flies one way and whose hips swing the other. Baker’s entire life spreads out in this tapestry of words, from a St. Louis childhood surrounded by music to her triumphs all over Europe—followed, sadly, by debt and illness. Robinson’s naif, folk-style figures look like puppets, and make some grim moments easier to endure (“Those ugly rumors incited some white folks/ to beat, murder, and burn black East St. Louis”). Although Powell’s focus is on Baker, the contrast between segregated America and welcoming France will not be lost on readers. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Anna Olswanger, Liza Dawson Associates. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)
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