Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Jazz Age Josephine

Jazz Age Josephine

Jonah Winter
Illustrator:  Marjorie Priceman 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2012   ISBN: 978-1416961239

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906 and she, like so many other African Americans at that time, had a very hard life. She lived in a shack, had very little to eat, and her prospects for the future were quite grim. There was one person though who felt that little Josephine would one day be “a princess.”

Josephine’s life was so full of misery that the only way she felt that she could get through it was by acting the fool. She made funny faces and crossed her eyes, and then she started to dance. It did not take long before people began to realize that Josephine was a gifted dancer.

After the African American part of town was set alight by “white folks,” Josephine left St. Louis and she traveled around the country with an outdoor traveling show. She finally ended up in New York City where she auditioned for a show. At first, she was told to “Beat it,” but then the director agreed to let her dance in the chorus line. She also performed wearing a clown costume and black makeup on her face. The role was so insulting that Josephine decided to leave the United States, and she sailed for France hoping to find a place where people would accept and appreciate her.

Based on the real story of the extraordinary Josephine Baker, this picture book combines bright colors and a rhyming bouncing text to give readers a real feel for what the performer’s life was like. Readers will be amazed to see how the poor little girl grew up to become one of the most famous performers of her time, and how she did so in spite of the racism that was commonplace.

At the back of the book the author provides his readers with further information about Josephine Baker’s life and career.