Jazz Age Josephine

Jonah Winter, illus. by Marjorie Priceman. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-6123-9
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 01/03/2012
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