Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell

1. A short bio about yourself and why you write for young people. 

Patricia Hruby Powell danced throughout Europe and the Americas with her dance company, One Plus One. She has earned advanced degrees in Dance (Temple University) and in Library Science (UIUC). Her awards include choreographic fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council; a storytelling award from Creative Arts Institute and for writing she has received the Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor 2014, Parent’s Choice Gold for Poetry 2014, Bologna Ragazzi Nonfiction Honor 2014 as well as awards from Western Writers of America and the American Folklore Society. Her picture books are Blossom Tales and the bilingual Navajo/English Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved and Frog Brings Rain. Her books with Chronicle are Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (January 2014) and the forthcoming documentary novel Loving v Virginia in 2016.

1. Why you wrote this book and created these characters 

I write for young people because I just might have something useful to say to them. I started JOSEPHINE while working as a children’s librarian at the Urbana Free Library and got to know a group of unfocused preteen African American girls who attended the library daily. I thought Josephine who could do anything she set her mind to do, would be a good role model for all young people but especially marginalized young people. I want people to know who Josephine Baker was.

The book is advertised as being for readers second to fifth grade. There are some reviewers and many teachers who see JOSEPHINE suited to middle school kids, due to the mention of difficult subjects (the 1916 riots of St. Louis) and also suited all the way through high school readers. (It has been cited in Harper Bazaar’s UK July 2014 edition as a book for adults). Being a picture book draws people in; being 104 pages long, makes it a book for many ages.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp. 

Josephine did just about anything she set out to do. She became a world-renowned dancer and singer, a civil rights worker, a mother to 12 adopted children, a war hero. We should all be so fearless.

How you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors. 

When I show JOSEPHINE to large groups, I see the faces of African American (and Hispanic and Asian) kids light up. I realize they don’t often see themselves in the books they see in school. They see themselves in Josephine. It’s very gratifying.

A little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate 

My first connection to Josephine is that of our both being dancers. I know dance intimately. I did many years of research on this book, reading all of Josephine Baker’s 5 autobiographies in French, many biographies about Josephine, watching hours of early and later footage of her dancing, listening to recordings of her singing, listening to her being interviewed. I visited the neighborhood in St. Louis where she grew up. I know her well. I have continued to do primary and secondary research into the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. It’s a clich√©, I know, but I have many black friends.

Any words form your publisher, reviewers or readers you would like to share?

“Baker’s entire life spreads out in this tapestry of words.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A life devoted to self-expression through dance and racial harmony is celebrated in this lavish, lengthy picture book.” Kirkus starred review

“Clear and lively descriptions of Josephine’s story play out creatively in the text, introducing readers to basic principles of poetic structure in storytelling and offering an accurate portrait of a woman who fought for racial equality and civil rights through her life’s passion: performance. Reluctant readers of nonfiction and poetry lovers alike will be drawn to this book’s musical, theatrical nature, making for a fun, enriching, and holistic reading experience. This unique and creative work is a first purchase.” SLJ starred review

“Powell and Robinson create a biography of a woman whose life and art are inseparable.”—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

“In this incomparable biography both Powell and Robinson convey the passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity of their subject through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page.” Horn Book starred review

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