The African-American singer and dancer was idolized in France because of her extraordinary talent as a stage performer and scorned in the United States because of her color.
Winter recounts Baker’s desperately poor childhood in St. Louis, her breakthrough into show business in New York and her move to Paris at the height of the Roaring Twenties in flight from racial prejudice. There, she dazzled audiences with her risqué musical routines and colorfully scanty costumes, especially the famous fake-banana skirt. Winter, a prolific author of picture-book biographies, uses rhyming couplets and verbal riffs, accentuated by lively typeface, for a highly energetic telling. “It’s the Shake, / the Shimmy, / and the Mess Around! / No one sleeps / when she’s in town!” Priceman, a Caldecott Honor recipient, uses her trademark swirling lines and bright colors in inks and gouache to show off Baker’s fantastic moves at almost cinematic speed. Not in the text but in the author’s note is information about Baker during World War II, when she worked for the French Resistance. That grateful country gave her medals and buried her with honors. More recently, Diana Ross and Beyoncé have copied her moves.
In any consideration of noteworthy lives, Baker stands tall and sparkles as a determined, brave and singular woman of color. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)