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ELLA FITZGERALD by Andrea Davis Pinkney Kirkus Star

ELLA FITZGERALD

The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa

By Andrea Davis Pinkney (Author) , Brian Pinkney (Illustrator)

Age Range: 5 - 9

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7868-0568-4
Publisher: Hyperion

In this terrific picture-book biography, Scat Cat Monroe, a slick, fast-talking cat tells the story of Ella Fitzgerald, the Queen of Scat. Scat Cat (who shares author credit on the title page) claims to have been there from the start and considers himself the keeper of Ella’s flame. Cleverly organized in four tracks instead of chapters, his account chronicles Fitzgerald’s unlikely debut at an Apollo Theatre talent contest as a 17-year-old who sings only because she’s too scared to dance. From there, it moves to her rousing success with the Chick Webb Orchestra, and then to her eventual teaming up with Dizzy Gillespie, when she would rechart the course of bebop. The prose is jazzy and rhythmic in the voice of a hipster, and it’s expertly illustrated with images inspired by the works of Harlem Renaissance artists, clueing readers to several departure points for further study. In this vein, the team provides useful afterwords explaining their methods and the historical backdrop to the story—complete with bibliography, videography, and selected discography. The design of this effort is quite remarkable; from time to time, words splash across the pages, and change in font and size, effectively mirroring rhythms and meanings. Using Scat Cat as the narrator allows easy access for younger readers, and his in-the-know voice will win over older ones. Anyone who enjoyed the Pinkneys’ other cultural collaborations—Alvin Ailey (1995) and Duke Ellington (1998)—will love what they’ve done with Ella. Others may simply find themselves inspired by these tales of her genius for invention. Cool. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)