Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter and Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.
It’s a lot of fun to hear your little one randomly say: “Boodle-am boodle-am boodle-am SHAKE!” I was surprised when my son started doing this one day after we read Jazz Age Josephine. On occasion he’ll also start singing: “Zee-buh-dop zoo-buh-dop zee-buh-dop ZOW!” Or some variation of that, anyway.
The first time my son started “boodle-aming”, I asked him where he learned that. He responded with an enthusiastic, “Jazz Age Josephine!” I chuckled to myself — because you know — every two year old quotes books about Josephine Baker.
This book is about Josephine Baker’s life from birth to her success in Paris. The author’s note at the end gives you a brief biography of her life from birth to her death in 1975. A lot of picture book biographies that I have read really gloss over the individual’s life and only highlight the beautiful parts to it. This book does not do that. This book talks a lot about her hardships and the first two times I read this to my son, I thought, maybe the recommended age of four to eight on this book is right on (if not a little older). I put this book back on our library shelf and didn’t really bring this book up, but my son started singing the, “Boodle-ams” and flat out requested that I read this book to him. So I figured I’d give it another try. We’ve read this book many, many times over the past few weeks.
There’s nothing objectionable about this book and there was nothing that I even needed to edit. Really, the only part that makes me uncomfortable is breaching the subject of racism with a two year old. I think these are my own issues though, and not the issues of the book. While reading the lines:
“Well, there were white folks chasin’ black folks- on the black folks’ side of town… white folks screamin’ at the black folks…and settin’ fire to their town. And the black folks kept on runnin’ while their homes burned to the ground.”
I wondered should I really be reading this to a two year old? I don’t know. I don’t think this will cause any harm, but I do know better than to think it’ll just go over his head. My son does ask each time I get to this page, “What’s that?” as he points to the fire that the men are holding in their hands. I say, “Fire.” “What are they doing?” he’ll ask in response. “They’re not being nice.” I answer. That’s the extent of our conversation about it. I’m not sure how this will affect him or how his brain is processing this — but it is the best I can think to do for now.
This book is so well written and magnificently illustrated. Reading this aloud to my son is amazing. The author has created writing with this fantastic jazz rhythm to it. You just have to follow along and let yourself go with it. It is unlike any other book I’ve read.
I picked up this book at the library because I saw that it is illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Marjorie Priceman, illustrated one of our all-time favorite books: Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! (Which you absolutely should check out — for any age.)
So, while Jazz Age Josephine isn’t what I thought it would be — a light picture book biography — it has turned out to be a wonderful book that I think most anyone would find it an impressive work. I do think the age recommendation for four to eight is right on, but even a two year old can see that this is a fantastic book.
I love this book so much that I nominated it for this year’s Cybils in Non-Fiction Picture Books. This book stands out and will not easily be forgotten. My hope is that the author will write more about Josephine Baker — because from what I read in the author’s note — Josephine Baker’s life after she became famous is much more uplifting and even more fascinating.
Where Obtained: Library.
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