“Josephine” gets starred reviews from SLJ and Shelf Awareness

By Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

School Library Journal
March 2014

“Captivating… a fun, enriching, and holistic reading experience.”—School Library Journal, starred review

This charming biography invites readers to step inside the vibrant and spirited world of performer and civil rights advocate, Josephine Baker. Robinson’s paintings are as colorful and rich as Josephine Baker’s story, offering page after page of captivating and animated illustrations and rhythmic text, which is written in blank verse. In a few short and well-organized parts, readers learn the story of one of the world’s most well known female performers who danced and sang her way from the poor and segregated streets of St. Louis to the dazzling stages of Paris all the way to Carnegie Hall. Text and illustrations work in tandem to accurately document Josephine’s extraordinary life and the era in which she lived. Clear and lively descriptions of Josephine’s story play out creatively in the text, introducing readers to basic principles of poetic structure in storytelling and offering an accurate portrait of a woman who fought for racial equality and civil rights through her life’s passion: performance. Reluctant readers of nonfiction and poetry lovers alike will be drawn to this book’s musical, theatrical nature, making for a fun, enriching, and holistic reading experience. This unique and creative work is a first purchase.

Patricia Hruby Powell (Blossom Tales) begins this biography of the larger-than-life Josephine Baker (1906-1975) with her 1927 quote, “I shall dance all my life…. I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.” Rhythmic language provides the beat to this life well lived, and chronicles how Baker fulfilled her wish, dying after a triumphant opening at the Bobino theater in Paris, at age 69.

Shelf Awareness for Readers
January 17, 2014

“Powell and Robinson create a biography of a woman whose life and art are inseparable.”—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

The pleasingly flat-planed folk-art style of Christian Robinson (Harlem’s Little Blackbird) works to dramatic effect. Drab background colors as Josephine’s mother scrubs floors to support the family give way to a bright white backdrop of vaudeville dancers on the next page, the manifestation of the woman’s own dreams of dancing. He follows Tumpy, the childhood incarnation of Josephine, as she transforms into a dancer whose “knees squeeze, now fly/ heels flap and chop/ arms scissor and splay/ eyes swivel and pop.” A teenage Josephine, suspended above the stage as Cupid, seems to swing off the page, her arms and legs pumping as if with a child’s joy on a playground swing. Powell suggests that Baker’s witness of the East Saint Louis riots seeded “the core of a volcano” that she’d later channel into her dances. Although Baker never felt fully at home in the U.S., she found one in France, and worked in the French Resistance.

Powell and Robinson create a biography of a woman whose life and art are inseparable. Josephine Baker did exactly what she set out to do: she danced all her life

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