Although it's early in the year, this new picture book by Jonah Winter about African-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker is already one of my fAlthough it's early in the year, this new picture book by Jonah Winter about African-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker is already one of my favorites! Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in a poor family, living in a shack with rats and no heat and went on to become an iconic performer in Paris, one of the symbols of the Jazz Age. At an early age, she learned to be a clown, dancing and making silly faces for money. Her talents would provide her a ticket out of what Winter calls the "general misery of her childhood." When she gets to New York, she winds up in the chorus line, where she performs in blackface. Looking for better opportunities, she left for France, which became her adopted country and where she wasn't "scorned for the color of your skin."
What's so special about this picture book? Several aspects make it a stand-out title. First, the rhythm of the text, which just demands to be read aloud, put to music and to become a dance number. Winter perfectly captures the vital rhythms of the dance age in the quirky rhythms of his poetry:
"Josephine, oh Josephine, you know you're in the big time now. Josephine, oh Josephine, grown up and in the big time now, makin' people hoot and whistle every night you take your bow."
And we can't forget the incredibly exuberant illustrations, done in gouache and ink, by two-time Caldecott honoree Marjorie Priceman, illustrator of Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin and others. You can see an extended excerpt of the artwork at Simon & Schuster's site. The vibrant colors, movement and energy of the artwork remind me of Matisse and other painters from Paris in the 1920's, and are a perfect fit for Winter's rhythmic text.
While this picture book does not detail all the aspects of Baker's life, an author's note provides some further biographical details on her history. This is a great title for both Black History Month and Women's History Month as well....more
This fascinating new narrative nonfiction book delves into the story of Prohibition, a unique and colorful decade in our country's history. Author KarThis fascinating new narrative nonfiction book delves into the story of Prohibition, a unique and colorful decade in our country's history. Author Karen Blumenthal , a long-time journalist with the Wall Street Journal, puts her considerable writing skills to good use in explaining how the great social revolution known as Prohibition, which was supposed to forever end drunkenness, reduce crime, and improve the lives of America's families, led instead to a culture of lawlessness, bribery, gangsters, and even murder.
Blumenthal goes back to the earliest days of the Pilgrims to trace the history of liquor in America, noting that rum was almost a form of currency in the earliest days of the country. In the 19th century, taverns multiplied, as did concerns about excessive drinking, leading to the formation of the temperance movement, who at first worked toward drinking in moderation. Soon, however, the movement changed its platform to total abstinence. The author profiles some of the most important personalities from the temperance movement, such as Morris Sheppard, the "boy orator of Texas" who was the first to introduce a constitutional amendment against "an evil that will prove to be the source of the nation's death," and Carrie Nation, the infamous "bar smasher" who believed she was on a mission from God to destroy saloons. The temperance movement was the first to put women in leadership positions, and forever changed women's influence in politics.
The political machinations of the "dries" to get the 18th amendment passed could spur many interesting discussions about parallel political movements today, and the whole saga of the rise and fall of the temperance movement is made all-too-contemporary in Blumenthal's lively narrative, which is full of personal anecdotes as well as sweeping analysis of the failures and limited successes of the prohibition movement.
The book includes a glossary of some of the colorful prohibition and temperance vocabulary (i.e. "real McCoy, hooch, moonshine, flapper, etc.) as well as a detailed bibliography (both books and websites) source notes, and an index. The book is handsomely illustrated with many period photographs as well as cartoons and newspaper clippings.
Several new YA series have come out about this era recently: Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen, and the Flappers series by Jillian Larkin. Bootleg would be a perfect read-along for both these series....more
Eleanor Updale, the award-winning author of the popular Montmerancy series, takes us to England in 1929 in her newest historical mystery novel for youEleanor Updale, the award-winning author of the popular Montmerancy series, takes us to England in 1929 in her newest historical mystery novel for young people. Our hero, Johnny Swanson, is an engaging young boy who finds himself mixed up in a murder mystery--and his own mother is the suspected murderer! Johnny's sure as can be that she's not guilty, but no one will believe him and the police seem to have already made up their mind. Can Johnny save her before it's too late?
There seem to be three interrelated stories going on in this novel--the above-mentioned murder mystery, the tuberculosis epidemic in England, and Johnny's many schemes to make money to help out his mother. Johnny is enticed by a newspaper advertisement promising the "secret of instant height," just what he needs to stop the bullying at school because of his small stature. When he discovers the ad is a hoax, he decides he can play that game also, and soon is concocting schemes to put advertisements in various publications and collecting small sums of money for bogus answers to problems. As you might imagine, Johnny becomes hopelessly entangled in a comical web of lies around his business, this part of the story very much reminded me of the classic Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald that I enjoyed as a child.
At the same time, a TB outbreak is plaguing England, and Johnny's neighbor, Dr. Langford, just might be working on a secret vaccine for the disease. This work turns out to be dangerous, indeed--for Dr. Langford and maybe for Johnny too, as he learns more than he should know about the undercover work.
Johnny makes an appealing boy detective--a character who's far from perfect, but whose good intentions shine through as he works to help his mother, first through his financial schemes, and then to save her from the hangman's noose. The author combines humor and suspense--a winning combination for young mystery fans. Perhaps we will see more adventures of Johnny Swanson in the future!...more
The Roaring 20's are definitely in vogue this fall in YA fiction, with major releases of the first volume in two different series: Vixen (The FlappersThe Roaring 20's are definitely in vogue this fall in YA fiction, with major releases of the first volume in two different series: Vixen (The Flappers series) by debut novelist Jillian Larkin, and Bright Young Things, by Luxe series author Anna Godbersen. The books are remarkably similar in some ways: both series feature the interlocking stories of three different girls as main characters, not to mention that they both feature glamourous young girls on their covers.
Vixen tells the story of Gloria Carmody, a 17-year old socialite in 1923 Chicago who attends an elite finishing school for girls and is about to get married to the very eligible bachelor Bastian Grey. But before she resigns herself to the dull world of marriage, she's determined to have some fun, because she's sick and tired of being her parents' "perfect little girl." Soon she's hanging out in "the rebel side of heaven," the Green Mill, an illegal speakeasy filled with glittering, glamorous flappers, gangsters, and jazz musicians. On her first trip to the Green Mill, she is struck by the sexy black pianist in the jazz band, Jerome Johnson, and soon Gloria secretly becomes the vocalist with the club's all-black band.
Living at Gloria's house, ostensibly to help plan her wedding, is her cousin Clara, who had run away to New York City from her home in Pennsylvania and conducted herself scandalously; she's now has been exiled by her family to Chicago. Clara decides to reinvent herself as the "sweet-as-pie and innocent-as-a-lamb farm girl, with aspirations to be a humble schoolteacher" coming to the city for the first time. The reader knows it's all a lie, but what exactly happened to Clara in New York remains a mystery...until the end of the book.
Our third main character is Lorraine, best friend of Gloria since forever, who resents Gloria's place in the spotlight since her engagement and is worried she'll be left without a best friend once Gloria gets married. She's also lusting after their mutual friend Marcus, who doesn't return her affections, but soon is interested in Country Cousin Clara.
But things are messy for these three flappers--we soon discover that Gloria's upcoming marriage is one of economics and convenience only, a business arrangement between Bastian and her father. In the meantime, Gloria's falling hard for someone as unsuitable as can possibly be--Jerome Johnson the black pianist, at a time when it was unheard of for "respectable" white women to date black men. Clara's receiving anonymous threatening notes, and what is Lorraine doing kissing the fiance of her best friend?!
The novel's author does a good job of peppering her yarn with plenty of period details, including illicit drinking from dainty little flasks, debutante parties, Buster Keaton movies, betrayed confidences, mysterious threatening letters, dangerous mobsters out for revenge, and more, until a climax that will leave readers breathless for the sequel (Ingenue, to be published in August 2011).
This novel's mix of romance, danger, star-crossed lovers, and the colorful Roaring 20's setting is sure to please fans of series like the Luxe. I give this novel high marks for sheer entertainment value, and think it is likely to find plenty of teenage fans. ...more
Anna Godbersen, author of the bestselling Luxe series, turns her attention to the glittering world of the Roaring 20's in her newest release, Bright YAnna Godbersen, author of the bestselling Luxe series, turns her attention to the glittering world of the Roaring 20's in her newest release, Bright Young Things, the first volume in a new series.
Bright Young Things concentrates on the interlocking stories of three attractive but very different young women, dubbed on the series website "the flapper, the heiress, and the starlet." Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey run away together from their stifling Ohio town to the excitement of New York City. Letty, a talented singer, dreams of being discovered and having her name in lights, while Cordelia wants to find the father she has never met, an infamous but charismatic gangster and bootlegger. Cordelia and Letty go their separate ways soon after arriving in New York, but don't worry--twists and turns in the plot that I will not divulge here will bring them together again before the end of the book.
Cordelia's gangster father is delighted when his long-lost daughter walks into his life, and she is quickly enveloped in a life of country clubs, extravagant parties attended by "socialites in feather boas...,gold diggers and gamblers, bankers and bootleggers (what was the difference, really?)", and luxury she could never even have imagined back in Ohio. Meanwhile Letty gets a job as a cigarette girl, struggling to break into show business. Alas, her small town innocence makes life even more difficult in the big city, and she must leave her naivete behind her to succeed.
Cordelia, in the meantime, meets the glamourous Astrid Donal, girlfriend of Cordelia's newfound brother Charlie, who attempts to educate her in the ways of this exciting and dangerous new world she has entered. In a Romeo and Juliet-like twist, Cordelia meets Thom, an incredibly attractive young man--the son of her father's mortal enemy, and soon she is enmeshed in a forbidden romance. Godbersen's next volume in the series comes out in 2011, and she leaves us hanging as all three of our young women pursue dangerous paths to their ultimate destiny (which we won't know until the series concludes!)
Godbersen is a master at appealing to her teenage audience. This new series is filled with the intrigue, romance, and great clothes of the Luxe franchise. She fills her book with juicy descriptions of this colorful Roaring Twenties period, from luxurious Long Island estates covered with "impossibly green lawns" to seedy boarding houses, to smoky speakeasies filled with flappers. The book is further complemented by photo essays on each of the main characters on the lively website for her books. Godbersen's many fans are sure to enjoy this newest series, and it's a good purchase for YA collections at libraries and schools. ...more
Don't you love discovering a wonderful new author? I was so mesmerized by debut novelist Barbara Stuber's Crossing the Tracks that I just couldn't putDon't you love discovering a wonderful new author? I was so mesmerized by debut novelist Barbara Stuber's Crossing the Tracks that I just couldn't put it down, even when it was time for lunch, doing the laundry, or walking the dog. I fell in love with the main character, 15-year old Iris Baldwin; when the novel opens, it's 1926, and Iris' father, a shoe-store owner and widower who's soon to remarry, hires Iris out for the summer to be a companion to a country doctor's invalid mother in rural Missouri, far away from her only friend, Leroy. Iris, who narrates the novel, lost her mother when she was five, and isn't at all close to her father. He's going to Kansas City to open a new shoe store, and clearly doesn't want her along.
When Iris arrives at the Nesbitts, nothing is as she expects. Mrs. Nesbitt has fiery eyes, gold silk slippers, and a bamboo cane named Henry. Dr. Avery Nesbitt is as kind as can be, even saving an injured dog from the train tracks. Although Iris is wary of the Nesbitts' violent and abusive tenant farmer, Cecil Deets and his nasty 13-year old daughter, Dot, she begins to settle in to life at the Nesbitts, even helping Dr. Nesbitt out when he goes to deliver a neighbor's twins. The Nesbitts try to make her feel welcome and let her friend Leroy come to visit. During the course of the novel, their friendship develops in new and more romantic directions.
But suddenly tragedy strikes, and Iris' life is turned inside out. She is forced to confront the real meaning of family; is it the people related to you by blood, or the people who cherish and nurture you?
This tender, funny, and heartbreaking novel touches on many themes that will resonate with a teen audience: the meaning of home and family, love and loyalty, dealing with grief and loss, and facing domestic violence. Iris must deal with all these in the course of one summer. There is a suggestion of an incestuous relationship in the novel, although there are no graphic details, and because of that aspect I would recommend this book for middle school and above. There are several romantic scenes between Iris and Leroy, and these are also handled in a tasteful manner.
One part of this novel I particularly appreciated was how much the reader grows to care about not only our main character, Iris, but the minor characters as well, who are exceptionally well-drawn. We meet many of the people who populate the small town where the Nesbitts live, and come to know them well. These range from the adorable dog, Marie, to Mrs. Nesbitt and even the abusive Cecil Deets and his daughter.
Warning: have plenty of tissues on hand. This is a "3-hanky" read! ...more