Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker’s fascinating life has been examined in books, films, and documentaries. But perhaps none is so beautifully done as Patricia Hruby Powell‘s picture book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle Books, January 14, 2014). Illustrated by Christian Robinson, Josephine tells the inspiring story of this boundary-breaking performer and champion for racial equality. A biography written in verse, Josephine is already collecting a jewel box of starred reviews, including one from Kirkus that says it’s “celebrated with style and empathy.”

Question: You’re a former dancer, so it’s easy to see the interest you might have for writing about another dancer. But why Josephine Baker? What drew you to her story?

Patricia Hruby Powell: It wasn’t till I hit my more advanced adult years that I took a close look at Josephine and was smitten. Her style, verve, her originality—as seen in the early film footage and the three movies she made—are irresistible. But when I was a serious young dancer—of Graham, Limon, and Cunningham techniques and of ballet, who became a choreographer and concert dancer—I did not take Josephine Baker seriously.

In my more recent capacity as a children’s librarian, surrounded by unfocused preteen African American girls, I thought Josephine could be a wonderful role model. Josephine had phenomenal confidence. Blind confidence, perhaps. That’s what drew me.

Q: Josephine is both beautifully illustrated, immensely informative, and well-written. And it clocks in at a whopping 104 pages! It is not every picture book that gets an editor’s green light to reach 100 pages! How did you win over your editor? Did the size of the book begin to worry you at any point?

PHP: Josephine evolved, you might say. I’d written it first as a 1,000 word picture book, received a lot of agent and editorial attention, but ultimate rejection. I then wrote it as a YA verse piece imagining Paul Colin-like black and white illustrations. Never mind that there’s really no such thing as a novella-length verse YA volume, I was writing what I wanted, as we’re always advised to do.

Read more of this interview over at AuthorOf.blogspot.com, where you’ll find conversations with writers of some of the best books for children – from picture book to middle-grade, fiction and non-fiction.

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