Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jazz Age Joesphine, Jonah Winter


The Teaser: In this picture book biography of Josephine Baker, little Miss Josephine sure was an odd looking child. To stop her from being teased, her aunt suggested that she entertain the other kids. And so Josephine learned to dance, every dance known to mankind and some she made up by herself. Eventually, and after some hard, hard times, she used her dancing skills to tour the country with vaudeville acts and even ended up in Paris, France where the people went crazy for Josephine and her act.

What Stood Out: I absolutely loved this picture book bio; Jonah Winter is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors when I need interesting non-fiction picture books. He tells the story of Josephine Baker in the rhythm and rhyme of a jazz song that flows smoothly through her childhood, early life and successes in France. It doesn't shy away from the harder facts of Josephine's life like the St. Louis Race Riots, performing in black face, or her stint of homelessness in New York.

What Didn't Work: Because of the content, and the extra explaining or context that might need to be given for concepts such as the race riots and black face, it's a little hard to pinpoint to right audience for this book. While it serves as a great introduction to Josephine Baker, school projects would need a more fleshed out biography, and (in addition to the some of the subject matter) it's a little long for a read-aloud for younger kids.

Anything Extra Special?: I did use Jazz Age Josephine very successfully as a read-aloud for a 4th grade class when I went to do outreach. They kinda glazed over the racial undertones in the story and glommed onto the fact that Josephine had a pet cheetah that she walked on a leash down the streets of Paris. Special props also go to Majorie Priceman's whimsical illustrations that perfectly capture the mood of a an upbeat jazz song and then trajectory of Josephine's life.

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