What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fun picture-book biography treats the very serious subject of racism in America in the early part of the 20th century. African-Americans in St. Louis are burned out of their homes, chased by whites, and forced to flee. Josephine Baker leaves and never come back. She makes her Broadway debut at 15 but is forced to wear blackface (kids may need some explanation of this former demeaning theatrical practice), and ultimately finds stardom and respect overseas in Paris.
What's the story?
Young Josephine is born in 1906 in St. Louis and grows up very poor, \"singin' nothin' but the blues.\" When kids are cruel to her, she makes funny faces with her eyes bugging out or crossed. She is a great dancer and figures out she can get paid for dancing and pretending to be a fool. After whites burn down her black neighborhood, she leaves and joins a traveling show that takes her all over the United States. She makes her Broadway debut at 15, but, like other African-American performers in that era, is forced to wear black face makeup to exaggerate her features for comic effect. \"Each night she wore those baggy pants, / she wore what people called 'blackface.' / As much as all those white folks loved her, / it was an insult to her race.\" In 1925, at age 19, she heads to Paris, where she finds fame and fortune, dancing, singing, and making funny faces -- finally treated with the kind of respect she could never attain in the U.S., where, as the Author's Note explains, \"she had been offered only humiliating roles.\"
Is it any good?
JAZZ AGE JOSEPHINE is an exciting picture book biography of one of the world's most beloved entertainers of her time. Winter's jazzy rhyming verse and two-time Caldecott Honoree Marjorie Priceman's bold, exuberant illustrations capture the deprivation of Josephine's childhood, the triumph of her performing career, and the glitz and glamor of the 1920s, known as the Jazz Age. Baker playfully dances across the pages, contorting her body into animal poses and kicking her long legs with abandon. It's a vivid portrayal that conveys Baker's irrepressible energy, as well as her melancholy at not being able to return to the land of her birth, lest she face prejudice and discrimination.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why Josephine Baker felt she had to leave the United States to happy and successful.
Why is it important to read about famous people who lived a long time ago. What can we learn from them?
How does the illustrator show the fun and excitement of performing and living in Paris? Do you notice how the colors change from her poor childhood to her dazzling life on the stage?
How do the author's rhymes convey the energy of a great dancer and singer?