The book will be released January 14, 2014.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
By Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
«“Baker’s entire life spreads out in this tapestry of words.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Segregated American clubs were willing to let African-American dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975) perform, but they wouldn’t let her use the front door. Powell (Frog Brings Rain) chooses a potent metaphor for Baker’s hidden anger: “hot magma, molten lava, trapped within.” When Baker arrived in France, the country embraced both her artistry and her blackness, and “Her deep volcanic core—filled with emotion, filled with music—erupted.” Robinson (Rain!) draws round faces gazing with amazement at the woman onstage whose pearl necklace flies one way and whose hips swing the other. Baker’s entire life spreads out in this tapestry of words, from a St. Louis childhood surrounded by music to her triumphs all over Europe—followed, sadly, by debt and illness. Robinson’s naif, folk-style figures look like puppets, and make some grim moments easier to endure (“Those ugly rumors incited some white folks/ to beat, murder, and burn black East St. Louis”). Although Powell’s focus is on Baker, the contrast between segregated America and welcoming France will not be lost on readers.
Kirkus Reviews Starred Review
« “An extraordinary dancer and woman is here celebrated with style and empathy.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A life devoted to self-expression through dance and racial harmony is celebrated in this lavish, lengthy picture book.
Writing in free verse, former dancer Powell pays homage to the fabulous Josephine Baker. Baker rose from a childhood of poverty and race riots in St. Louis, Mo., to dance in New York and Paris, the city where she finally achieved fame and escaped American segregation and racism. Grateful to the French, she worked as a spy during World War II and later adopted 12 children from around the world: She called them her Rainbow Tribe. The author excels at describing Baker’s innovative and memorable dance routines and her fantastical life in Paris, where she walked her pet leopard, each adorned with a diamond choker. The book is arranged as stage acts, each covering a segment of her story. With this device, Powell and Robinson create an air of expectancy before the curtain rises and a time to reflect and admire as it falls in front of a stage strewn with flowers. Robinson’s stunning acrylic paintings depict elongated figures and recreate Baker’s movements and costumes with verve and dynamism. The page design features well-placed text, occasional quotes and vibrant hues, further complementing its striking subject.
An extraordinary dancer and woman is here celebrated with style and empathy.