New books: Patricia Hruby Powell
PATRICIA HRUBY POWELL
Things are really happening for dancer, story-teller and author Patricia Hruby Powell.
She got an agent, sold a book to a major publisher and is getting great reviews for "Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker," her picture book on one of the most famous, glamorous and sexy dancers of the 20th century.
It is illustrated by Christian Robinson. The book is marketed as a book for children but will entertain adults. "Josephine" is available at the Jane Addams Book Shop, 208 N. Neil St., C, as well as online.
Hruby Powell has published three books before: "Blossom Tales," "Frog Brings Rain" and "Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved," building on folk tales.
A Wall Street Journal review said of her latest, "Young readers will get a bracing sense of the force of personality behind the famous name, written by Patricia Hruby Powell. This attractive volume has the physical heft of a novel, but with its rollicking prose and Christian Robinson's vibrant illustrations — all in the service of an extraordinary life story — the overall effect is of a picture book that simply will not quit."
At 104 pages, it's long for a picture book. But it tells a compelling story.
It's about Baker, a performer, World War II spy and civil rights advocate who worked her way from the St. Louis slums to stardom in Paris, Vienna and Carnegie Hall.
Baker's story has sad moments, but the author handles them deftly.
Hruby Powell acknowledged that Baker could also be naive: She embraced Benito Mussolini and Juan Peron, for instance. Yet she was also idealistic and effective in the French Resistance. As Hruby Powell writes:
she flirted with friend and foe,
eavesdropped on Nazi enemy officials.
Then, safe in her own room,
she wrote it all out in invisible ink
on her sheet music
or pinned her notes in her underwear
and carried them home to France.
Who would dare
search Josephine Baker
to the skin?
Though she'd become more fluent in French than in English, Baker made a return to the United States for Carnegie Hall, before a triumphant last dance concert in Paris.
Hruby Powell is herself peripatetic, having left the UI to live in Greece for months to study dance and perform all over the world, so she brings insight to the story.