Just in time for Black History Month, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker is a vibrant biography of a woman who defied society’s stereotypes and restrictions as she danced around the world.
With lively free verse that evokes the Roaring Twenties ragtime that Josephine Baker reveled in, the author crafts a story worthy of such a unique artist. Ms. Powell’s use of quotes gives young readers a feeling for Josephine’s energy, drive, and creativity. This, for instance, is how the bio begins: “I shall dance all my life. … I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.”
She also varies the typeface, font, and size of some of the words: “She flung her arms,/she flung her legs./Like she flung her heart and her soul./’Cause DANCIN’ makes you HAPPY/when nothing’ else will.”
We follow Josephine as she leaves the slums of Saint Louis to join the Dixie Steppers in performing for audiences as far south as New Orleans, “where signs for one latrine read WHITE ladies/and another, COLORED women, where a white person wouldn’t sell you/a cup of coffee./Because you were/NEGRO.”
From there, Josephine Baker made her way to New York and finally to the City of Light, Paris, where, she recounted, “For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful.” She was all the rage, and, unlike in segregated America, people tried to dress like her, arrange their hair like her, and tanned to look like Josephine. She would stride down the Champs-Elysees with her pet leopard, Chiquita, “each wearing a diamond choker–/as REGAL as a queen by day/as WILD as a leopard by night.”
Later, when France entered World War II, Josephine Baker joined the Red Cross and spied for the country that had given her so much. She also showed her brave, generous spirit by adopting 12 children of various races from nations around the world. She “felt the whole world was represented in her family. She called them her RAINBOW TRIBE.”
Divided into six acts, or chapters, this biography vibrates with Christian Robinson’s spirited illustrations done in acrylic paints. The abundance of bright two-page spreads will keep many a reader engaged and longing for more.
This is one DAZZLING tribute to one sassy woman. Highly recommended for upper-elementary and middle-school students.
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