cover image Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Roxane Orgill, illus. by Sean Qualls, Candlewick, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7636-1733-2

Orgill’s (Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire) fine biography of the singer crackles with tension and verve. Orphaned at 14, Ella bounces from unfeeling relatives to an orphanage, then to Harlem’s Seventh Avenue: “People took her in, gave her a meal and a bed. Or didn’t. In 1934, half of Harlem was out of work.” Many virtues distinguish Orgill’s writing: precious fragments of historical detail, flirtations with the flash of the spoken word (“He had a drumroll like a burst of gunfire”), and, most of all, heart (“This young lady’s got a gift she’d like to share with us tonight,” says an emcee when Fitzgerald falters at an early performance. “She’s just having a little trouble getting it out of its wrapper”). Qualls (Dizzy) creates spreads that reflect the propulsive trajectory of Fitzgerald’s life in an age when everybody was dancing; successive portraits show her turning page by page into a star. A puzzle: despite the title, there’s no mention of Fitzgerald’s scat singing. Readers won’t mind, though. An unforgettable portrait of an artist whose faith in herself carried her when little else did. Ages 5–up. (Aug.)