02 February, 2012

Review: Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter & Marjorie Priceman

Jazz Age Josephine wasn't slated for review on this blog, but after reading it I really hope it finds a wider audience. Too few books on black icons exist that haven't been hopelessly sanitized for white audiences. While my fellow reviewers at Amazon would have preferred to leave race out of the story, I am so glad the authors left it in.

Josephine's reasons for leaving St Louis are tagged to the larger issue of the St Louis fire instead of the specific abuse she endured as a child laborer. I don't really know how to answer readers complaining that white people have been presented as bad people or that the merits of  minstrel shows aren't included. (I might need to watch Bamboozled fifty or sixty more times to process that one.) I'd say it's interesting to me that children can process all sorts of villains and peril if it is presented by Disney yet cannot handle the truth about our nation but it's really not. It's incredibly boring and often infuriating. (It's also destroying our two party system, but that's a whole different kettle.)

Anyway, if you're raising a kid in the reality based community (or working with an adult literacy program) Jazz Age Josephine is a delightfully illustrated book with a syncopated text that lends itself well to reading aloud. (Wait, I'm still getting over my fellow reviewers. Young Josephine being so poor that rats nibble at her feet is fine, but white citizens burning out a black section of town is just too disturbing for the little tykes? Um. Ok.) While Josephine Baker's life is far more complex than one children's book can hold, her rags to riches story is framed in a message of self belief and personal reliance. Josephine faces adversity and overcomes it to attain a fame that is as empty as it is satisfying, showing that even a Princess can't have it all. I'm going to give Josephine the last word (or image) here. She created an amazing and often inspirational life that this book presents in an appropriate context for children. As refreshing in it's refusal to ignore race as it is in it's refusal to pretend wealth heals all wounds, Jazz Age Josephine deserves your attention.

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