Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
by Patricia Hruby Powell; illus. by Christian Robinson
Intermediate, Middle School Chronicle 104 pp.
2/14 978-1-4521-0314-3 $17.99
To describe Josephine Baker’s life as “dazzling” is not an exaggeration. In this incomparable biography both Powell and Robinson convey the passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity of their subject through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page. There is a surprise at every turn as we learn how Baker, at fifteen, hid inside a costume trunk to stow away with a dance troupe. We see how she managed to stand out in a chorus line by crossing her eyes and acting goofy to win over audiences. We find her walking down the Champs-Élysées with her pet leopard, Chiquita, who wore a diamond choker. You think her life couldn’t get any more interesting? Wait until you hear about her years as a spy for the French Resistance. Or about the twelve children she adopted from all over the world (her “rainbow tribe”), to prove that people of different races could live together. Matter-of-factly introducing the racism her subject encountered throughout her life, Powell doesn’t shy away from the challenges Baker faced, but she makes clear that Baker never let them overwhelm the joy she got from performing and living life to its fullest. Robinson’s highly stylized illustrations, using bold colors and a flat perspective, are at once sophisticated and inviting to young readers. Even the few pages without pictures are made visually interesting by the broad strokes of acrylic paint in the background and by the clean typeface that judiciously uses uppercase to accentuate important words or lines in the text. Direct quotes from Baker — translated from the French, of course — are interspersed throughout. C’est magnifique!
From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.