“The shimmy, the moosh, the mess around, the Charleston…”
The title character’s iconic curl of dark hair stares out from every page of Isabel Sanchez Vegara’s picture book Josephine Baker. In the space of a few pages, Josephine grows up in St. Louis, performs in a chorus line, spies for the French Resistance during World War II, and befriends Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Agathe Sorlet’s illustrations—which this writer found both bold and elegant—provide a through-line for the eclectic life story: Josephine’s mouth is always a small red bow, her nose a little black L, and her silhouette just curved enough to suggest movement.
A Life Worthy of Exclamation Points!
Josephine Baker is likely to be an educational reading experience for both parents and children. Josephine was a woman who made her own rules—she moved to Paris at age 19, had a huge collection of pets, adopted twelve children, and was the first black woman to star in a major film. Despite all this, she is not as well-known as she ought to be, and much of her life story came as a surprise to this reader. A section at the back of the book provides more detailed biographical information and photos of Baker. Though parents may at times feel inundated by exclamation points, you too may decide Josephine’s life merits every last one.
JOSEPHINE BAKER is an Anti-Racist Read for Youngsters
Parents looking for anti-racist books for children ages 2-6 (or even younger, as Quarto Kids also offers a board book version of this title) may decide that Josephine Baker is just the thing. The story provides children with a powerful black role model, and explains that when Josephine was growing up, white people “made all the rules—and these rules were very different if your skin color was black.” Though it’s a simplified portrayal of racism, Josephine’s story could be the perfect way to begin introducing the topic to very young children.
Sorlet’s illustrations leave the white characters’ skin void of color, making them look like paper dolls next to the warm brown tone chosen for Josephine’s skin, and focusing our attention on the black characters. This writer found it especially refreshing that the problematic crayon shade often called skin color is entirely absent.
Readers of all ages will find something to enjoy—and something to learn—in Josephine Baker. Toddlers may keep turning back to the parade of animals; older children may laugh when they hear the moosh is a type of dance; adults may find themselves googling Baker to learn more about how she smuggled information in her music sheets during World War II. On top of all that, reading about a black icon and civil rights advocate can help kids understand the current movement for racial justice. Though Josephine Baker lived in the past, her story is very much of the present.
To purchase this title, visit the Quarto Kids webpage for JOSEPHINE BAKER.
For further reading, check out Quarto Kids list of Anti-Racist Books for Kids.
Images courtesy of Quarto Kids.
About the Author: Fiona Warnick
Fiona Warnick is a Creative Writing major at Oberlin College. She has dabbled in ballet and theater, and speaks semi-passable French. Born and raised near Amherst, Massachusetts, she enjoys reading middle grade fiction and hiking in her spare time. She is trying to get better at Scrabble.