Friday, February 7, 2014

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The life of Josephine Baker was quite notorious and not what I would have thought to be the stuff of a children's biography, but Patricia Hruby Powell has written one the suits both.   Josephine Baker was an extraordinary African American woman.  The eldest of four child, born into poverty in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, Josephine spent much of her life caring for her siblings and helping her grandmother and  mother wash other people's laundry.  

But St. Louis was also the home of ragtime music and Josephine, who seemed to feel the music right down to her very core, longed to dance to it up on the vaudeville stages.  With the little bit of money she earned, Josephine went to see the show at the Negro theater, the Booker T. Washington.  

Her first step into vaudeville was putting on street shows, first with other kids, later with the Jone's Family, where she played the slide trombone.  Then she got to be a replacement dancer with The Dixie Steppers on a real stage at the Booker T. Washington.  And she was great.  

So Josephine left home and traveled with The Dixie Steppers to New Orleans, where she became a dresser instead of a dancer.  When she ran into the Jones Family, the Dixie Steppers told her to stay with them - she just wasn't stage material in their opinion.  

But Josephine wanted to dance and so she stowed away on a costume trunk when The Dixie Steppers traveled up north to Philadelphia.  There, they let her dance and shimmy again and at age 15, Josephine married and became Josephine Baker.  

And then she left Philadelphia and her husband and traveled to New York City and its beckoning Broadway lights.

And the rest is history.  From New York, Josephine went to Paris, where she was quite a sensation, on her own and making lots of money.  And when the war came, instead of running back to America, Josephine became a spy.  After the war, she adopted 12 children, all from different countries, all difference skin tones, they became her Rainbow Tribe.  

And ever after her lavish lifestyle used up all her money, Josephine figured out how to make more.  And she danced til the end of her life, doing exactly what she loved to do.

This is a beautiful book that just has such a musical feel to it.  Written in free verse that mimics the ragtime/jazz music that Josephine loved to dance to.  And, together with artist Christian Robinson's spirited illustrations done in acrylic paints in the vibrant colors of the time and resembling a vaudeville show, Josephine just makes you want to get up and dance, too, or at least tap your toe while you read.   

February is Black History Month and that is a perfect time for reading and learning about this strong, incredible  lady. 

Experience some of the favor of the music that made Josephine want to dance in this trailer created by Christian Robinson, with music provided by Morgan Powell (the author's husband) on his jazz trombone. 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was received from the publisher


This is book 2 of my 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. This is definitely on my to read list. Thanks for sharing the trailer as well!

  2. I will be reading this as soon as I can. Did you see this interview at Seven Imp?


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