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Monday, November 22, 2010

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls.  (Grades 3-7.) Candlewick Press, August 2010.  Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration (this review reflects only my own opinion).

Ella Fitzgerald, raggedy and poor, had a dancing beat in her heart that just wouldn't stop.  She grew up poor in New York and after she was orphaned at 14, she was soon out on the street, but she didn't let it stop her.  Ella started going to auditions and people could see she had something special.  Even though she was sleeping on friends' couches and floors, her music made people want to get up an dance.  And pretty soon, Ella wasn't a raggedy cat anymore, she was a "rowdy-dowdy high-hat baby" climbing the charts.

Skit-Scar Raggedy Cat is an accessible and kid-friendly account of Ella Fitzgerald's childhood and teen years.  Ella was only 14 when she was orphaned and she made her singing debut at the Apollo Theater when she was 17.  The book concentrates on her teen years, her transition from poor and happy with her family to running with a rough crowd and living on the streets to the start of her successful singing career.  This is a great picture book to share with older readers.

I love the carefully chosen words that make up this book.  They ring with rhythm and music and beg to be read aloud.  (And yes, I read parts of this book aloud to my cats.  They seemed to enjoy it.)  Take this passage describing Ella's life after her mother died:

"Ella was a rough-tough raggedy cat on the outside, but inside she was milky and silky and soft and shy.  The raggedy cat got rougher... Ella was hurting, and there was no one to notice.  Ella broke the law herself once, twice, and then - 


Skit-scat. 


Ella got sent up the Hudson River to a school for orphans.  It was an awful place, a nightmare place... The school was no place for a rowdy-dowdy high-hat baby with a broken heart.  How could Ella dance in a nightmare?  How could she sing with no one to send the song to?"

Illustrations in pinks and blues and reds and browns compliment the text.  They bring out the joy on Ella's face when she's singing and dancing, making her beautiful even though many people didn't think she was beautiful in real life.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat is a great addition to the many wonderful picture book biographies today.  It'd make a nice choice for units on music or Black History.  And it's on shelves now!

Happy Nonfiction Monday!  Practically Paradise has the roundup!

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