Josephine and Marian (Women's History Month)

Continuing our Women's History Month picture book series...

Josephine Baker and Marian Anderson were two very different entertainers.  Josephine was a product of the Jazz Age.  She was a wild comic dancer and singer.  Marian Anderson was gifted with a stunning voice, a natural talent that was evident when she was just a child.  Both women faced the pain of racial prejudice, though, and both women were embraced by European audiences when race hampered their American careers.

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012.

As you can tell by my humble photographs, Jazz Age Josephine is vibrant and colorful, much like its subject.     Kudos to Marjorie Priceman!  The first half of the book is written in the form and rhythm of an old blues song.  (Think Bessie Smith or another 1920s blues singer.  I actually started singing the text to a generic blues melody, and Big Sis begged me to keep it up!)  We learn about Josephine's childhood in St. Louis, the poverty she endured, and how she learned to make funny faces and dance funny dances to cheer herself up and earn money on the streets.  According to the book, she ran from St. Louis to escape a fire, eventually ending up in New York, sleeping on a bench in Central Park.

She made it to the chorus line of a show, but her routines were blackface numbers and so insulting that she decided to leave the US for France.

And it is here that Jonah Winter changes up the text, adopting the fast-paced rhythms of 1920s jazz.  Josephine becomes the toast of Paris, and while the book laments that she will never be so famous in her homeland, Josephine lived a joyous life in Europe.

Only so much of Josephine Baker's life and career would fit in a children's picture book, but she's an awesome subject to research on your own.  She was involved in the French Resistance movement during WWII.  She was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the US during the 1960s, often working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  She adopted 12 children! Here is the official Josephine Baker website.  Three of her French films are available on video, separately or in a boxed set, and if you poke around online, you may find them available for streaming as well.  Lynn Whitfield won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Baker in HBO's The Josephine Baker Story. Some footage of Baker's famous banana dance has shown up on YouTube,  but here are a couple of performances I showed the kids after reading this book.

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson
by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press, 2002.

When Marian Sang is a stately book, perfect for the dignified Marian Anderson.  Pam Muñoz Ryan tells Marian's story plainly: Marian singing at home in Philadelphia, at church, at neighboring churches, Marian desperate for proper voice lessons, the death of her father. When her father died, her church promised to band together and contribute the money needed for Marian's lessons. Marian waited in line at a music school in 1915, only to have the door slammed in her face because of the color of her skin.  She saw her first opera, but performing in an opera seemed like an unattainable dream.  She continued to sing, traveling with her accompanist, until she was finally accepted for lessons with a master teacher.  After two years of lessons, she boarded a ship for Europe, where she could travel and perform without the indignities and restrictions placed upon people of color in America.  She did become a star in Europe, and it seemed like she could perform anywhere, until she returned to her own country.

Excerpts from spirituals are interspersed throughout the text.
 On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson famously sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  She sang there because Constitution Hall refused to allow her perform, and Howard University could find nowhere else in Washington, DC, that would allow a black performer on the stage.  She sang for 75,000 people.  After the Lincoln Memorial performance, Marian continued to sing the world over.  The book ends with Marian finally reaching the unattainable, a place on the Metropolitan Opera stage.

The beautiful illustrations are by the amazing Brian Selznick.  I love Brian Selznick art.

I still have such a stack of books!  So many awesome women to read about, and so many wonderful authors and illustrators helping to bring them to life.  I love books.  Thanks, amazing women, for everything you've done for the world.  Thanks, books, for existing.

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Miss Independent Reader

Well, Big Sis has done it.  She has read her first "big kid" book on her own.  Until now, she has read a steady diet of early chapter books - Junie B. Jones, Ivy & Bean, Nancy Clancy - but this week, she finished the Beverly Cleary classic Beezus and Ramona.  Riding around in a car all day gave her a lot of reading time, but she was determined to finish the book the next day at home.  And finish it she has!  

By the way, is it completely snobbish of me to be a bit embarrassed about that movie tie-in cover?  We've never even seen the movie.  We scored the book (and a couple others!) in a grab bag sale at a used book store.  I try to avoid movie tie-in covers if I can.  I would prefer a cool vintage copy.  

And I am a complete nerd, and it's obvious my seven-year-old doesn't care what the covers looks like, because she read the whole book by herself!!!

She wants to start this next:

We have The Magic Half by Annie Barrows [Bloomsbury, 2008] on loan from the library, and it has to be back in two weeks.  I want to read it, too!  I love Barrows's  Ivy & Bean books, as anyone who's read this blog for a while knows.  I'm hoping she'll still let me read it with her.  I don't know if I'm ready for Miss Independent Reader!

On the picture book front, we've been continuing our diet of nonfiction for Women's History Month.  I have so little March left, and I need to start devoting some time on here for Easter, too, as well as a post (or two) about our Spring Break day trip.  Look for a Saturday post!  Maybe even a Women's History post on Palm Sunday, too.

Spring break is almost over.  I've been enjoying time with my girls.  Next week, I should have more time to write and edit pictures and such.  Sorry to be so short this week!

But as always, Merry Weekend!  Happy Reading!

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An Oz-tastic Preview

We went on a little day trip yesterday.  It will take me a while to wade through the pictures and write a reasonable post.  I have books I should post about instead.  But I'm too excited!  

Because we went to an OZ MUSEUM yesterday!  

Forgive me for leaving you with just a little preview.  I will have a whole post full of pictures and info up next week.  But for now, I need to relax a bit...  

Because there's no place like home.  

(Although Oz is pretty awesome, too!)

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Happy First Day of Spring!

Has spring sprung where you are?  (Or autumn, for my readers south of the equator.)  

It's chilly here in Kansas, but not too bad today.
There's snow predicted this weekend.  
We usually have snow around the first day of spring.

Well, not last year.  But usually!

What is the weather like in your neck of the woods?

We're off on a little day trip, but we wish you a blessed equinox!

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An Architect and a Painter (Women's History Month)

More picture books about women in history!  

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased
by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales.
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012.

Georgia in Hawaii tells one episode in Georgia O'Keeffe's life:  her 1939 trip to Hawaii.  She was invited by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later Dole) to paint two paintings extolling the virtues of the pineapple and its juice.  Georgia wanted to paint in the fields, but the company wanted her to paint indoors, using a pineapple for a model.  Georgia had other plans, and toured Hawaii, painting flowers and whatever she felt like painting.  She presented her floral paintings in lieu of pineapples, which did not please the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.  According to the book, she did eventually paint a pineapple.  Amy Novesky's text is easy to follow.  You don't get much background story on O'Keeffe.  The story told in this book is very specific, but that does make it easier for children!  Yuyi Morales's illustrations are beautiful.  In her notes at the end, she explains how she used O'Keeffe's own paintings, from different points of her career, as a starting point for her own in this book.

For more on Georgia O'Keeffe, you can visit the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum online.

Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis,
illustrated by Miles Hyman.
Viking, 2006.

As a huge fan of classic film, especially the silent era, I've read many a film book or biography that reference William Randolph Hearst's magnificent San Simeon estate. It was here that Hearst and his mistress, film actress Marion Davies, entertained the rich and famous from all over the world. I'd even read Marion Davies's autobiography, but I'd obviously never read one on Hearst. Somehow, I seem to have missed the fact that the architect behind the castle at San Simeon was a woman! Julia Morgan was the daughter of a Bay Area engineer, who dreamed of being an architect someday. She studied engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, enrolling in 1890, the only woman in her class. She went to work for her favorite teacher, an architect, after graduation, longing to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. When she caught word that the school might start accepting female students, Morgan boarded a ship and moved to Paris, where she waited for the school to open its doors to her. Once she finally achieved her Paris education, Morgan returned to California. She helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. (Her buildings, it must be said, withstood the quake!) She had completed over 450 building projects before meeting newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1919. San Simeon was a massive, ongoing project. It was built so high on a hill that roads had to be constructed in order to even begin construction on the estate. Morgan oversaw the building herself.  Sleeping quarters had to be provided onsite for the workers, cooks hired to feed them.  Movies were brought up to the hill to entertain them on the weekend!  The estate at San Simeon was never completely finished, but it still stands as Hearst's and Morgan's crowning achievement.

The focus in this book is Julia Morgan and her career.  Hearst and his famous guests are definitely background information.  (And no worries - there is no mention of Hearst's personal life in the book.)  I didn't know anything about Morgan before reading this, but I feel like I learned a lot.  Celeste Davidson Mannis's text managed to keep the 7-year-old interested, too.  (It was a bit wordy for my easily-distracted 5-year-old.)  Miles Hyman's illustrations have a sun-kissed glow about them, in keeping with Morgan's life in California.  

After reading the part about the 1906 earthquake, I showed my daughters these two clips on YouTube.

San Francisco, before the quake...

and after the quake.

After reading this, for my own benefit, I found the episode of the old A&E show America's Castles about the Hearst Castle at San Simeon on Netflix streaming.  And just for fun, I'll leave you with the unofficial hostess of San Simeon, Marion Davies.  This is my favorite clip from her film The Patsy, where she imitates other famous movie stars.  The Lillian Gish impersonation is my favorite.

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My green skirt and stripey St. Patrick's Day socks.

If you can't be somewhere Irish, perhaps Scottish?  The beautiful Scottish Rite building.  Big Sis is in a play at the theatre.  

A St. Paddy's Day stop at The Donut Whole.  The girls hate boba tea, but loved the little fairy on my cup.

A close-up of the Pot O' Gold donut.

Green at home:  Our green lantern, my green afghan, my green cardigan, and The Secret of Roan Inish.

We didn't do much.  We had a nice visit with a good friend from college, Big Sis had rehearsals for a musical, and I'm green with yet another flippin' cold.

This house needs a major disinfecting.

Time to start thinking about Easter...

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