A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids learn that in the early part of the 20th century, African-American performers were expected to perform in blackface in the U.S., which is one of the reasons Josephine Baker fled to Paris. They also hear about Jazz Age dances like the Charleston and the Turkey Trot, and see Josephine doing her famous banana dance.
The implicit mesage is follow your dreams and don't stand for oppression. Believe in equality and yourself, and do what you must to assure that you will be treated fairly, even if it means leaving home.
Positive Role Models
Josephine Baker is a great American hero, someone who used her talent to escape poverty and racism and, though it is not covered in this book, fought against segregation. An Author's Note recounts how she appeared at the 1963 convention where the Rev. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and in France she adopted 12 children of from around the world, calling them the "Rainbow Tribe." When she died in 1975, 20,000 people lined the streets of Paris for her funeral procession.
Violence & Scariness
In Baker's childhood, whites burn down houses in the black neighborhood of St. Louis, forcing the black people to run away, and then chase after them. Two white men are shown brandishing flaming torches as a black family flees. Picture's of Josephine's very poor childhood include a scene in which she is sleeping in a shack on a wood plank floor, under newspapers because she had no blanket, and a large rat is nearby.
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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 comes 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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.