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Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Review

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

written by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson

Spanning the years 1906 to 1975, from humble beginnings to spectacular success, JOSEPHINE takes readers on the lifelong journey of dancer Josephine Baker. Patricia Hruby Powell’s new picture book, equally entertaining and informative, is sure to capture the imagination. More than a Cinderella tale, it is the story of a woman with a “volcanic core,” driven by her innate talent and desire for justice.

Josephine Baker was raised in the slums of St. Louis, Missouri. As a young girl, she dreamed of dancing to her favorite ragtime and honky-tonk music. Against the backdrop of discrimination and race riots, Josephine made her start as a performer in a small vaudeville troupe. When the Dixie Steppers invited her on tour, Josephine’s world began to open up. But once they arrived in New Orleans, the troupe decided that Josephine was not stage material, and instead would be working with costumes. Josephine didn’t let the bait and switch discourage her; soon enough, she appeared on stage.

 

With syncopated rhythms and emphatic onomatopoeia, she captures the sound and movement of a brilliant performer. 

 

Just 15 years old, Josephine made her way to New York City, where she heard there was a Broadway show featuring black performers. When one dancer got sick, Josephine took her place in the chorus. She danced with energy and humor, deliberately stepping out of turn and into the spotlight. Not only was Josephine a hit, she stole the show. Yet offstage --- in clubs, restaurants and even the theaters where she performed --- the starlet continued to face segregation.

In the ‘20s, Josephine was invited to perform in La Revue Nègre in Paris. Finally, within the integrated society of Paris, Josephine was met with respect. Hailed as the “Black Pearl,” she became the revue’s poster girl. Josephine went on to become a great humanitarian and civil rights advocate. Josephine Baker died in 1975, but not before staging a triumphant comeback.

Powell embeds biographical description in verse to create a compelling mix of history and poetry. With syncopated rhythms and emphatic onomatopoeia, she captures the sound and movement of a brilliant performer. Vibrant, acrylic illustrations by Christian Robinson further accentuate Baker’s singular style. 

Reviewed by Emma Kantor on January 7, 2014

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
written by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson

  • Publication Date: January 14, 2014
  • Genres: Children's
  • Hardcover: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • ISBN-10: 1452103143
  • ISBN-13: 9781452103143