Book about dancer features energetic text, illustrations

Book about dancer features energetic text, illustrations

"Josephine" (2014, Chronicle Books, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson, ages 6-14) proudly heralds in Josephine Baker with these words:

"Knees SQUEEZE, now FLY, heels flap and chop, arms scissor and splay, eyes swivel and pop. Josephine, all RAZZMATAZZ, erupted into the Roaring Twenties — a VOLCANO."

This 104-page picture book biography bursts with color and zeal as it leads readers through the dancer's youth in Saint Louis, home of "RAGTIME MUSIC — raggedy black music — gotta-make-the-rent music — lift-my-soul music — GOLDEN-AGE music."

In six sections, in lyrical free verse text, we see Josephine's love of music and dance build, along with her anger at the cruel treatment of black people. We see her career take off and her personality emerge.

"Josephine's VOLCANIC CORE heated, but the comic in her got funnier, like a hot steam release," as she stepped out of time with chorus lines, crossed her eyes and left audiences howling with laughter.

Off she went to Paris. "She shimmied. She shook. She swiveled and kicked. Sparks flew. C'EST MAGNIFIQUE!" A star was born. When war broke out, a spy was born as well. She "FLIRTED with friend and foe, eavesdropped on Nazi enemy officials" and became a war hero.

The wildly energetic text and boldly painted illustrations seem to be in motion, as together they capture the pizazz of a truly unique character. Sprinkled generously with quotations, this well-researched, expertly crafted book is receiving raving reviews.

Hruby Powell is not the only Books for Kids columnist to recently release a picture book biography: "Gandhi: A March to the Sea" (2013, Two Lions Press, written by me and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez, ages 4-9) introduces readers to Mohandas Gandhi and his 1930 Salt March.

It begins with the line, "Just before sunrise, a small, brown-skinned man, takes a step toward the salty sea, many miles away."

As the free verse text follows Gandhi and his marchers on their long journey to the sea, it defines their mission using a building refrain, "Each law broken, every stride, every garment spun, every Indian who joins the fight: One more step toward freedom."

Showing the many obstacles they faced along the way, the story introduces readers to concepts such as untouchability, as in this scene: "With his own hands, Gandhi draws water from the Untouchables' well, to wash his dusty body cool and clean. Disgust and fear brew like storms in the villager's watching eyes. Gandhi responds with a warm, sure gaze."

Gonzalez's glowing watercolor illustrations bring Gandhi, India and this historic event to life, embracing the Mahatma's determination and spirit. The text celebrates the successful end of the march and the achievement of Gandhi's mission, ending with the line, "One great man led India, step by step to freedom."

Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com), is the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children. She directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and she tutors school-aged children in writing.

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