JOSEPHINE

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Today I’m posting my interview with Patricia Hruby Powell, author of Josephine. Josephine is a verse picture book biography and I’m in absolute book love! This book has beauty, fun, fire, heart, and truth. It’s a visionary picture book. It’s perfect.

Just look & listen:

On the opening page Patricia writes, “America wasn’t ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS.” Well, I think this book is a superstar too and yep, there are going to be some readers who are not ready for it. In the video above I showed you a page that details young Josephine’s experience in an East Saint Louis race riot. Patricia uses the words murder and rape in a book intended for 7-10 year olds. Those are big words, I know. But Josephine was a LITTLE girl when she heard them, and I believe the BIG star with the BIGGER heart that she became cannot be described without using them in the book. I also love that the beauty of Josephine’s life, and of this book, cannot be sullied or denied because of those words written on one page of a life. A strong and important message for young girls. Even seven year olds.

I’m so pleased that Patricia was willing to be interviewed! Here we go…

1. Hi Patricia! First of all, I think the book is absolutely AMAZING, words, pictures, design — it is a superbly put together book. I’m in love with it and I’m in love with Josephine. She moved me to tears. But the book is unique, unusual, maybe even going to be controversial. When you wrote the beautiful verse text did you envision it as an illustrated book for 7-10 year olds?

I first wrote Josephine as a 1000 word picture book. After getting editorial feedback at a workshop, I re-wrote it for a young adult audience in verse envisioning black and white drawings inspired by Paul Colin’s poster art. (Never mind that no such format really exists). Submitted that way, I was asked by Chronicle Books to cut the word count down from 7500 words to 3000 words and delete the more adult parts. I sold that Josephine, a 3500 word piece, and then my visionary editor started adding stanzas from the 7500 word manuscript back in—or asking me to do that. So the piece evolved.

2. I read Josephine to my seven-year old, who hadn’t learned the words rape or murder yet, and I have some thoughts on why keeping those words in is so important (see above). How do you hope the book gets read? Why did you choose to keep those words in?

I wrote, “WHITE RABBLE-ROUSERS spread lies—said Negroes were invading white neighborhoods/ to steal, rape, and murder. White folks got scared.  Those ugly rumors incited some white folks/ to beat, murder, and burn BLACK EAST SAINT LOUIS.”

Those lies were the ugliest scariest terms that whites could conjure up. If you analyze it to its core, the fear of black men sexually forcing themselves on white women, nothing could be more frightening—more debasing—to a white racist. And that’s what the rumor-mongers wanted—to scare and incite a riot. It worked. It’s history. It has happened throughout history and continues today.

I’d explain it to kids when they asked. And of course that’s done differently for each child, for each parent, for each classroom, and teacher.

3. You are a dancer too, just like Josephine. What did you learn about her when doing your research that really spoke to you as a dancer?

When I saw footage of the young Josephine Baker dancing I was smitten. She was wild, original—she was unique. She improvised herself. That is, her dancing was her personality. And that personality was charming, flirtatious, joyous, on fire.

Patricia, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on such a beautiful, visionary book!

❤ Robin

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PS – to see more of Christian Robinson’s amazing art check out his interview on the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog!

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Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist

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Hi everybody! Today I’m interviewing Lois Harris, author of Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist. She’s written three lovely biographies of North American artists, perfect for use in the classroom. Charlie is a wonderfully appealing character, a painter, sculptor, and storyteller. I love that when he went west to be a cowboy he brought along a tin of beeswax for making little figures. I was so inspired I tried my hand at a little wax sculpting too!

1. Hi Lois, you have written three books about artists, which makes me wonder, are you an artist too?

I’m not a visual artist, but I’ve enjoyed looking at art since I was a girl and spent many Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Many of my friends are artists. I like being with creative people.

2. Do you have a favorite Charles Russell painting, sculpture, or story?

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When I was researching for my book, I visited Montana where Charlie lived most of his life. In Helena, the state capitol, I saw the original oil painting of Laugh Kills Lonesome at the Montana Historical Society. Charlie was a working cowboy and his picture tells a story. It’s a moonlit night after a long day herding cattle, and cowboys gather round a crackling campfire under the big starry Montana sky. The firelight throws light on the cowboys and a horse while the cook wipes a pot. You can imagine someone is telling a funny story like Charlie used to. He was a great storyteller. He chose Laugh Kills Lonesome as the painting title because those cowboys weren’t lonely when they laughed and shared stories. I liked this picture so much, I selected it for a double spread (two pages) in my book.

3. Is there an interesting fact about Charlie that is not in the book?

Charlie became a famous artist, and his paintings and sculptures sold for a lot of money in Europe, Canada, and America. He could have lived anywhere, but he chose to stay in Montana. Charlie liked nothing better than getting together with his old friends. Charlie did not let fame or money change him and knew what made him happy.

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  • Comment! In the comments section write the name of your favorite local museum.
  • Museum visit! Take your kids to visit a museum, ANY museum, and send me a picture of the back of your kiddo’s head, an excited pointed hand, or just let them pick their favorite piece in the gallery (we call this one ‘Favorite in the Room’) and send a pic of that to robin@blueeggbooks.com.
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