cover image Ragtime Tumpie

Ragtime Tumpie

Alan Schroeder. Joy Street Books, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-316-77497-0

Stunningly illustrated and as joyful as St. Louis jazz, Ragtime Tumpie is a ``fictional account'' of an incident in the childhood of the flamboyant and legendary entertainer Josephine Baker. Although the author's note at the end of the book details Baker's famous accomplishments--her work for the French Resistance, her adopted ``Rainbow Tribe,'' her Ziegfeld Follies stardom--the book is not a traditional biography. It is a fully developed picture book that resonates with the sights and colors of the turn-of-the century era it describes. Ragtime Tumpie's saucy exuberance, spicy as a gingersnap, is irresistible. ``I'm gonna be a honky-tonk dancer,'' Tumpie says, and she remembers all the times her mother took her to see her drummer father and his friends play the ``Dill Pickles Rag'' and the ``Chicken Chowder.'' She goes to sleep lulled by the ``lazy-bluesy sound of the saxophones'' and dances through the winter in the apartment with her mother ``just to keep warm.'' When she wins a silver dollar in a dance contest held by an itinerant Medicine Man, Tumpie knows that she will ``never stop dancin' now!'' Although the plot is simple, the book's emotional reverberations are complex. Fuchs's rich paintings are luminous and golden. The faces of even minor characters seem breathtakingly real. The shopkeepers smile at Tumpie snatching fruit in the sun-drenched Soulard Market, old Savannah dances in a ``swirl of hot color,'' and Tumpie's disapproving stepfather looks out from the shadows of a cracked mirror. Tumpie's face, especially, is unforgettable as she dances barefoot to ``real jug band jazz'' and walks through streets that seem ``alive with dancing and color and the fast joy of ragtime music.'' Ages 5-9. (Oct.)