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Bookworm Sez: Great book for young singers, dancers

“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker” by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

c.2014, Chronicle Books $17.99 / $21.50 Canada 104 pages

You love to sing because it’s your thing and you dance when you get the chance.

On the sidewalk and in the park. For school, for church, or just for yourself, you gotta open your mouth and move your feet. No doubt about it, you’re the kind of kid who needs a stage.

So what would you do if you were told that you couldn’t perform because your skin was the wrong color? In “Josephine” by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson, one woman decides to do it anyhow…

Josephine’s mother loved to dance. It made her happy but she didn’t do it much because there was rent to pay and children to feed. So instead of dancing, Josephine’s mother scrubbed floors.

While her Mama worked, Josephine listened to sidewalk horns and honky-tonks and “sponged up that funky music.” She loved to dance, too. She loved it so much that she worked hard to earn pennies so she could watch “the Negro theater” where Ma Rainey sang and others shimmied. Josephine loved performing so much that she left home at age 13 to work with the Dixie Steppers. She was just a kid, but she could help dress the dancers – and as soon as they let her, she joined the chorus line.

Yippee! Josephine was finally able to dance and sing to crowds, but she still wasn’t allowed inside certain hotels or restaurants. They were for “WHITES ONLY.”

When the Dixie Steppers broke up, Josephine found herself a long way from home in East St. Louis . She fell in love, married a man named Baker in Philadelphia , and then left him to go to Broadway where she found fame.

But the color of her skin kept her from the kind of fame she really wanted. It was frustrating, and Josephine felt like a volcano sometimes – until she was invited to perform in “La Revue Negré” in France .

Ooh la la, the French seemed color blind! And they were wild for Josephine Baker!

And yet, there was one thing Josephine hadn’t done, and it bothered her. She hadn’t become a star back home in America . She needed to do it – but was America ready for her?

As I was reading “Josephine” through for the first time, something tickled the back of my mind. I liked the colorful illustrations by Christian Robinson well enough, but that wasn’t it. The story is familiar, so that wasn’t it, either.

And then it hit me: the words.

Author Patricia Hruby Powell’s story is written almost like scat: quick lines, be-bopping here and shooby-loobing there, rising and falling as though Josephine Baker herself was singing the story. It’s infectious, even in the sad parts. Your little one might not notice that hoppity-bop but once you do, you won’t be able to not see it.

I think smaller kids might enjoy this book for the artwork but readers ages 8-to-12 will probably get more out of “Josephine.” If your child’s gotta sing and gotta dance, then she’s gotta read this book, too.

“Confessions of a Wild Child” by Jackie Collins

c.2014, St. Martin’s Press $26.99 / $29.99 Canada 294 pages

Oh, the things you got away with when you were a teen!

Cutting classes and hanging out in the school parking lot. Sneaking out of the house when your parents thought you were asleep, parties when they weren’t home, “borrowing” their car, busting curfew, stupid stuff you hope your kids never do.

You got away with a lot. It’s a good thing your mother never knew.

Then again, as you’ll see in “Confessions of a Wild Child” by Jackie Collins, she probably did the same things when she was a kid.

Almost-fifteen-year-old Lucky Santangelo was tired of being in prison.

Ever since her mother was murdered ten years prior, Lucky’s father, Gino, kept Lucky and her brother, Dario, locked in their posh Bel Air mansion. They weren’t allowed to go anywhere unchaperoned, though Lucky was good at sneaking out. Outwitting Gino was fun - until the day he informed her that she was being shipped to a “very expensive” boarding school in Switzerland .

As it turned out, it wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened. Eager to find out about boys and sex, Lucky and her boarding school roommate escaped every night, biked into town, drank, and played a game Lucky called “Almost.” It was a fun, empowering game in which she “almost” lost her virginity to several local boys.

Kicked out of the Swiss school for “Almost,” Lucky was sent to a different school in Connecticut but she didn’t stay long: her former roomie, a Greek heiress named Olivia, invited Lucky to the south of France . It was easy to get there. It was even easier to forget to tell Gino where she was.

Caught once again, Lucky was dragged to Las Vegas , where Gino told her that he’d figured out how to tame her. As much as she wanted to walk in her father’s footsteps and go into business, Lucky wasn’t destined to run the Santangelo Empire. No, that would be Dario’s future. For Lucky, marriage and babies were inevitable.

And Gino Santangelo believed that was that.

But if he thought he had a wild child before, he hadn’t seen anything yet…

Every once in awhile, I get in the mood for a good trashy novel and, really, you can’t beat a book by author Jackie Collins. You can’t. Still, there are bumps and bruises inside “Confessions of a Wild Child.”

It’s often hard, first of all, for an adult to write in the voice of a young teenager, and the first few pages of this book reflect it: Lucky sounds like a middle-aged woman. That bump passes quickly, but occasionally returns; there are also light continuity errors in here, and some preening repetition. Turn up the heat, though, and you’ve got a story that has its flaws but is, overall, a delightfully guilty pleasure.

Though Lucky is a teenager in this book, this is an escapist-novel for adults. If you’re looking, in fact, for something to take on that mid-winter vacation, “Confessions of a Wild Child” is a great book to get away with.

(The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.)

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