Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Karen Deans
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Holiday House, 2015   ISBN: 978-0823419708

At the turn of the century, in the early 1900’s, there was an orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life School near Jackson, Mississippi. The founder of the school, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, created the school so that African-American children could have a decent place to live and get an education. In return, the children did household and garden chores to “earn their keep.” At this time very few African-American children had the opportunity to learn how to read and write, so what the school offered was special. It was a “hope-filled space.”

   In 1939 music loving Dr. Laurence started a school band just for girls. The members of the band, which was called the Sweethearts, had to work hard, but they loved the music even though the hours of practice were long. The girls played swing, or big band music, music that people could, and did, dance to. The Sweethearts played their music in many different kinds of venues to raise money for their school.

   When the Sweethearts left school, they decided to stay together to try to make a living as musicians. With their chaperone, Rae Lee Jones, they moved to Washington D.C and lived together. They travelled around the country in a bus and though some of the original band members left, other women (some of whom were not African-American) joined the band, which became famous. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm (this was their new band name) was the only band of its kind at that time because women were expected to stay home and take care of a household. Joining a band and touring the country was not the way a lady was supposed to behave.

   The members of the band had to face discrimination not just because they were female, but also because many of them were African- American. The white members of the band could be arrested for being in the band, and so they disguised their looks or simply “tried to stay out of sight.” The amazing thing was that the women in the band did not let these problems prevent them from performing, and their audiences loved them.

   In this wonderful nonfiction picture book, readers will meet a group of women who faced all kinds of challenges when they dared to form a band that performed publically. The women paved the way for other women ensembles that came after them, and they showed the world that women could be wonderful musicians and entertainers.