Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Josephine (A memoir in verse)

Author: Patricia HRuby Powell
Pictures: Christian Robinson

In short: This memoir-in-verse relates the story of Miss Josephine Baker, her rags-to-riches rise, her entertainment career and mostly her passionate work for equality and an end to segregation.  This book is a Coretta Scott King Book Award, Honor, for the Illustrator, a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nonfiction Honor.

 My thoughts:  I am always looking for memoirs in verse. I think as a reader, putting the story in verse, especially for a musician, helps the reader feel the rhythm of that person's life. What I especially thought was a nice touch was how Powell used some actual quotes from Ms. Baker and put that prose into poetic form.

"I improvised, crazed with the music. /Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever./I leapt to touch the sky./When I regained earth/it was mine alone."
As a children's book or tween book, it does not shy away from the controversy and racism of that time. It does a good job of recording the ways that Ms. Baker tried to integrate herself into white society. However, I was left with more questions about this controversial figure. I still wanted to know why she continued to bleach her skin to fit in with high society. In other words if she was so interested in integration, why was she trying to look more white?

Another thing I wanted to see was how she was as a mother. Yes she adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds to make her "rainbow tribe" but then she is seen abandoning her husband for long stretches in Paris, coming back to divorce  him, and nowhere is there a mention of the children. Did she leave them with her husband, take them with her? I could not tell if the adoptions were for show or what she was like outside of the limelight.

I think as a memoir in verse, these types of questions left at the end are great for readers who want to know more and it will encourage them to seek more answers. The author does give references for further reading at the end so it is a place to start.


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