Reviews for Jazz Age Josephine

Booklist Reviews 2011 November #1
*Starred Review* Even though the ranks of picture-book biographies of significant artists (many of whom kids have likely never heard of) have swollen considerably in recent years, this one about the singer, dancer, and all-around entertainer Josephine Baker still manages to dazzle. Much of the credit for this goes to Winter, who only loosely follows the tried-and-true format of using the artist's life as an inspirational model to embrace talent, work hard, overcome adversity, and follow one's dreams. The biographical details--how she would dance on the streets of St. Louis for spare change as a girl, got her big break as a chorus girl in New York, and then found fervent acclaim in Paris as a "symbol of the American Jazz Age"--are covered in broad strokes, with more attention given to recreating the style and swagger of her onstage performances. With pages that sometimes have little more than riffs on "Boodle-am boodle-am boodle-am SHAKE," Winter's syncopated language dances nearly as much as the energized, loose-limbed figures in Priceman's kinetic artwork to convey the spirit, as much as the life, of the subject. An author's note supplies more concrete biographical details, but the true potential in this book lies in its ability to get little ones whipped up into an ebullient, dancing fizz, sharing in the joys of rhythm. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 February
African-American tales of triumph

Black History Month is a special period of celebration and commemoration—a time for looking back at the individuals and events that made progress possible. In honor of this special time, BookPage has rounded up a group of new picture books that chronicle some of the highlights of the African-American legacy.

In Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, Ann Malaspina revisits a thrilling chapter in American sports—the story of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Born in Albany, Georgia, to impoverished parents, Alice Coachman seems destined to defy gravity. Leaping over tree roots and shooting baskets with towering boys, practicing the high jump with a crossbar made of branches and rags, Alice, as depicted in Eric Velasquez’s dynamic paintings, seems always to be airborne. Her father disapproves of her tomboyish behavior, but when she’s invited to join the Tuskegee Institute’s famous Golden Tigerettes track team, Alice develops skills that take her to the 1948 London Olympics. There she soars farther than she ever imagined, setting a new Olympic high jump record. Malaspina employs a spirited prose style to tell the story of Alice’s extraordinary career.

Proving that knowledge really is power, Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass recounts the rise of one of America’s greatest orators. Frederick Douglass spends his early childhood on a Maryland plantation where slaves caught reading are severely punished. When he’s transferred to the home of the Auld family in Baltimore, Frederick gets his first taste of formal education. Kind-hearted Missus Auld gives him lessons in the alphabet, and Frederick is soon obsessed, practicing in secret with a brick and chalk. At the age of 12, he buys his first newspaper and encounters words like “abolition” and “liberty.” Against all odds, Frederick educates himself and—later on, at great risk—his fellow slaves. By unlocking the secrets of language, he arms himself for the future. Featuring beautifully nuanced pictures by the author’s husband, James E. Ransome, this moving book comes with a clear message: Education is the key to success.

With Jazz Age Josephine, Jonah Winter offers an irresistible homage to a groundbreaking performer. Born dirt poor in St. Louis, Missouri, young Josephine Baker spends part of her childhood in the city slums, where she’s taunted by other kids. Using theatrics as a survival tactic—clowning and dancing to hide her hurt—she makes a little money and eventually joins a traveling show as a dancer, but the blues follow. At one point, she’s so broke, a bench in Central Park serves as her bed. At the age of 19, Josephine takes off for Paris, where she finds her artistic footing and gets a taste of what liberation is like. Embracing her race and blossoming as a performer, she hits the heights of fame but never forgets her St. Louis roots. Winter’s blues-inflected writing style is perfectly complemented by Marjorie Priceman’s bright, impressionistic visuals. Brimming with infectious energy, Winter’s book is a showstopper from start to finish.

Showing how team spirit in sports helped break down racial barriers, Chris Crowe’s Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game is a wonderful depiction of the brotherhood of baseball. It’s the fall of 1948, and the city of Cleveland is humming with anticipation for game four of the World Series—a contest between the city’s own Indians and the Boston Braves. An African-American boy named Homer narrates the events of the big day, as he and his parents gather around the radio to listen to the game. Homer’s hero, Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, will be stepping up to the plate. When Doby hits a home run in the third inning, he makes history, becoming the first African-American ballplayer to do so in the World Series. Mike Benny depicts Homer’s wide-eyed excitement through luminous illustrations, while Crowe seamlessly weaves facts and stats from the actual game into the storyline.

Ntozake Shange is a beloved African-American playwright, poet and novelist. With Freedom’s
a-Callin’ Me
, she delivers a timeless collection of verse inspired by the Underground Railroad—dramatic and impassioned poems about slaves dreaming of escape, the white folks who help them and the trackers who trail them. Shange writes with wonderful authenticity and an ear for syntax, conjuring up a group of unforgettable narrators who experience hope, danger and loss on the road to a better life. The book’s title poem eloquently describes one man’s plan to flee, to “mix myself way low in the cotton . . . wind myself like a snake / till ah can swim ’cross the stream.” The poems are filled with arresting imagery—slave hunters leading ferocious hounds, overseers wielding their whips—which Rod Brown brings to life in his sensitively rendered paintings. Throughout the book, Shange offers different perspectives and stories to create a multifaceted look at the secret system that changed so many lives. This is a wonderful introduction to an important chapter in African-American history—and to the narrative possibilities of poetry.

Written and illustrated by acclaimed author Shane W. ­Evans, We March is a stirring account of a history-making event as seen through the eyes of one African-American family. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people came together for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an episode forever inscribed on the American memory thanks to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Evans’ tale brings the momentous day down to a personal level, as the family prepares to march, painting signs, praying and joining the procession to the Lincoln Memorial. Evans’ brief, poetic lines have a simple majesty that reflects the significance of the occasion. His vibrantly illustrated story gives readers a sense of what it might have been like to join the crowd taking crucial steps on the road to freedom.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
Blues-reminiscent rhymes tell the story of the dance and civil rights icon Josephine Baker's climb from penurious St. Louis childhood to Jazz Age era fame in France. Winter finds the right way to introduce an unconventional, groundbreaking artist to a young readership; Priceman's gouache and ink illustrations energetically dance on the page. An author's note further details Baker's accomplishments.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 January #1
The African-American singer and dancer was idolized in France because of her extraordinary talent as a stage performer and scorned in the United States because of her color. Winter recounts Baker's desperately poor childhood in St. Louis, her breakthrough into show business in New York and her move to Paris at the height of the Roaring Twenties in flight from racial prejudice. There, she dazzled audiences with her risqu musical routines and colorfully scanty costumes, especially the famous fake-banana skirt. Winter, a prolific author of picture-book biographies, uses rhyming couplets and verbal riffs, accentuated by lively typeface, for a highly energetic telling. "It's the Shake, / the Shimmy, / and the Mess Around! / No one sleeps / when she's in town!" Priceman, a Caldecott Honor recipient, uses her trademark swirling lines and bright colors in inks and gouache to show off Baker's fantastic moves at almost cinematic speed. Not in the text but in the author's note is information about Baker during World War II, when she worked for the French Resistance. That grateful country gave her medals and buried her with honors. More recently, Diana Ross and Beyonc have copied her moves. In any consideration of noteworthy lives, Baker stands tall and sparkles as a determined, brave and singular woman of color. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2012 May/June
This title is a picture book biography of Josephine Baker. Growing up in the jazz age of the 1930s, she got her start in a chorus line in New York City. Because her talents were never fully recognized in the United States, she went to Paris, where she became famous. The text style is appealing, easy-to-read, and fits the jazz theme. Colorful illustrations show lots of expression and motion. The cover depicts Josephine dancing and will entice the reader to open the pages and take a look. Children will enjoy reading this easy biography. Sue N. Howard, Educational Reviewer, Memphis, Tennessee. RECOMMENDED. Copyright 2012 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 November #4

The life of entertainer Josephine Baker isn't an easy one to translate to the picture book form, but Winter and Priceman attack her story with a gusto worthy of Miss Josephine herself. Opening with her impoverished childhood in St. Louis, Mo., Winter (Barack) uses the riffs and rhythms of the blues music structure to show how a young Josephine embraced an energetic stage presence early on ("So Josephine made funny faces, stuck out her tongue, and crossed her eyes./ Yes, Josephine made funny faces, stuck out her tongue, bugged out her eyes"). Leaving town due to racial strife, Josephine fled to New York City, broke onto Broadway, and--fed up with racist roles she was asked to play--decamped for France. Winter switches up his rhythms to match the mood, first with jazzy staccato blasts ("Gay Paree!/ Josephine!/ Here's an act/ they've never seen!") and later with a more contemplative ballad. Caldecott Honor artist Priceman (Hot Air) contributes exuberant gouache and ink paintings that capture Josephine's every impish facial expression and knee-knocking, hip-shaking dance move. It's a rollicking tribute to a remarkable, trailblazing woman. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 January

Gr 3-6--Born into poverty in St. Louis in 1906, Freda Josephine McDonald, aka Josephine Baker, met her surroundings with humor, entertaining dance moves, and an unshakable belief in happy fairy-tale endings. She left home while just a teen and her natural gifts led her to the New York City stage where the clownlike dances of her childhood evolved into the signature moves of polished adult expression. Eventually she went to Paris where enthusiastic followers of the Jazz Age praised her dark, exotic beauty and her talent. While the rhyming text echoes the blues, Priceman's swirl of watercolor images capture the story's various moods. A multipage tribute to Parisian nights and the Eiffel Tower is electric with bold reds, pinks, oranges, and purples in a series of movements reminiscent of the entertainer's vibrant performances. While the text rhythm of blues and scat accompany smoky shadows, images of jazz musicians flit past angled approximations of Baker's original dance moves. Images and text present an introduction to the terminology and style of early jazz. This heartfelt tribute to Baker serves as a marvelous introduction to the era.--Mary Elam, Learning Media Services, Plano ISD, TX

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