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Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson

cover for Josephine by Patricia Hruby PowellA free verse prose poem tells the life story of the first black American international musical superstar Josephine Baker, born out of wedlock and raised in part by a single mother. Collage drawings give the book a rich tactile feel that almost transcends the flat page. The language, which tells the story of Baker’s creativity and success amidst the U.S.’s violent racism is continuously evocative. While the images are fun to look at for all ages, only children ready to learn about racism, race riots, and shadism should read the book, as those harsh realities made a huge impact on Josephine Baker’s life and career, and are represented in heartrending language and images in the book. This is a beautifully told story that will tempt both the child who loves, and the child who hates reading and poetry, to become a poet. Verse after verse, the reader will learn of Josephine’s courage, and her fierce determination to be center stage as the dancing star she believed she could become. Those afraid to move on to middle school, go off to boarding school, or attend a training camp for their sport or art will see in Josephine, a girl so committed to the fulfillment of dancing that she left home at thirteen-years-old to tour the country, and left her husband for Broadway when she was only fifteen-years-old. Those who never consider the power of humor will learn how Baker attracted the spotlight with her comedic facial expressions as she danced. Her dynamism will inspire the reader learning of her many landmark performances, as well as her choice to become a pilot and fight as a spy against the Nazis during WWII. With dramatic punctuations in the poetic language, the author tells of Baker’s economic fall, and how bankruptcy proved to be a painful lesson in excess for the generous humanitarian. But Powell makes sure the reader knows that Baker was a socially conscious performer. At one point the richest Negro woman in the world, Baker was a civil rights fighter who convinced the army and many venues to allow integrated audiences to attend her performances, and even convinced owners of segregated corporations to hire blacks. The language and illustrations will make you feel Josephine’s life— her ups and downs, her ultimate triumph in achieving every dream she had, including dying “breathless, spent, after a dance.”  (buy)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 10+

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