A review of Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine
“In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.“
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I like that this book touches on (if very, very lightly) Josephine’s many different adventures and not just her entertainment career. It might have been fun to have less words from the author about the journey of the book’s research and more illustrations and story about Josephine, but I did appreciate the author’s notes too. Baker seemed like such and interesting person andI’m glad that now kids at least have this basic introduction to her glitzy, troubled, passionate world. References of source material for the story and Josephine’s quotations are provided at the back of the book for those who want to dig a little deeper into Josephine’s life.
I read the ebook and I don’t think it was a particularly good copy. It was hard to see the effect of the beautiful illustrations which were formatted awkwardly (and smaller than seemed intentional) on the screen so I’d really love to get my hands on the hardcopy.
Addendum: I now own the hardcopy and it is indeed lovely. The illustrations are full sized so you can fully appreciate their simultaneous simplicity and lushness.
That’s part of why I’m giving this 3 stars instead of 4 despite all its charm. But, more importantly, I felt like it was difficult figuring out who the audience was meant to be. And, actually, I still don’t really know. Young kids who have a parent read it to them (and explain everything)? Older kids who can read on their own? Adults? The subject matter seemed above young kids, but the simple language seemed like it might bore slightly older kids who would be able to fully appreciate the content. So then I thought it might actually be adults this is aimed at who can appreciate the meaning and the charm of the simplicity of Powell’s poetry.
Notwithstanding this mild confusion of voice/audience, I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely the sort of thing you can look back through several times and it would make such a lovely gift. It doesn’t just tramp the same old ground reciting well-known facts and not much else. It touches on her big break, her time as a stunt pilot (which I knew absolutely nothing about!), her “Rainbow Tribe”, her generosity and lavish lifestyle which saw her fall into hard times and so on.
Christian Robinson’s illustrations are so lovely. They pay homage to illustration of an older time in and reimagine it in a more inclusive, sweeter way. He makes me want to pick up Gaston and Leo: A Ghost Story next just to see more of his work.
rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 stars)
genre: illustrated biography
publisher: Chronicle Books
date read: 13 October 2015
recommend for: those looking for an intro to Josephine Baker, illustration lovers
pros: fun, beautiful naive illustrations, light introduction/overview of her life
cons: uncertain voice/audience