Tag Archives: christian robinson

josephine: the dazzling life of josephine baker


Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014).

Words by Patricia Hruby Powell, pictures by Christian Robinson.

Oh. This. Book. Dazzling, yes! But also poetic, rich, real.




(And it was just recognized as a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction honor book.Woo hoo!)



It tells Josephine Baker’s story. Of Missouri, poor and dreaming about dancing. Of racism, riots, and segregation. Of her first time dancing for pennies all the way to her last show for a sold out crowd and everything in between.



“I shall dance all my life….

I would like to die breathless,

spent, at the end of a dance.”

Josephine Baker, 1927

Josephine_Interior_Chorus Line

 (Click to enlarge image(s).)


“Wasn’t there any place in the world

where color didn’t matter?”

(That place was Paris.)


“…with her beautiful ebony body,

like a prizefighter, like a kangaroo,

with rhythm in her hips,

like a cat ready to strike,

a volcano about to burst,

with her black painted lips.”


Thanks to Chronicle Books for images!


This book includes how daring and powerful and electric Josephine Baker was. But also her activism—she volunteered during WWII for the Red Cross and French Resistance; she performed for U.S. troops, unsegregated; and she adopted 12 children from varied backgrounds, her “rainbow tribe.” It also explores her faults; her decline; her comeback.


Illustrator Christian Robinson was kind enough to answer some questions and provide me with photos of Josephine Baker paired with his artwork from the book. Aren’t they incredible?!




This Picture Book Life: Was there anything during your trip to Paris that directly influenced or made it into the book?

Christian Robinson: In Paris I daydreamed and saw Josephine walking along the Champs-Élysées with Chiquita.




TPBL: How would you describe your approach to artmaking, specifically for picture books?

CR: Have fun! If I’m not enjoying the process, find a way to make it fun again.



TPBL: How did you decide what illustration you wanted to accompany the text on each page?

CR: With many rounds of rough sketches which helped give a better sense of how to lay out a picture book of this volume. When reading a manuscript I allow whatever images arise strongest in my mind to lead the way for illustration. Josephine may have been one of the most photographed women of her time, so fortunately I had plenty of visual references to help guide me as well.



TPBL: Did you make any changes to your artistic process and style considering this book’s content—for example, the spreads that deal with harsh, sad parts of the story like racism and violence?

CR: Finding ways to visually communicate the heavy and scandalous parts of Josephine’s life in a way that is accessible to children was a fun and exciting challenge. It was more liberating than limiting to express the gritty.

I had so many inspiring creative references to help guide me, such as the illustration of Paul Colin and painter Jacob Lawrence.



TPBL: Who made the decision to have some spreads be painted colorfields as background to the words without other pictures? And why?

CR: Early on it was decided that having illustration for every page would be quite a task, for both the illustrator and the reader. The beauty of [this kind of book] is that it gives pause and allows the reader to use their imagination to fill in the visuals until the next illustration. Jennifer Tolo Pierce, the art director, was able to make the most of those illustration breaks and have Patricia’s dynamic text dance across the page.




Readers, I leave you with possible cover images for the book, an artwork process photo, and a glimpse of Christian Robinson’ studio (notice the Paul Colin posters hanging on the wall).





Thanks to Christian Robinson for thoughtful answers and images!



picture books on rain



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The pair:

RAIN! by Linda  Ashman, pictures by Christian Robinson (2013)


Umbrella by Taro Yashima (1958)

April showers and all, at least in some parts. Both of these picture books are about rain and one’s reaction to rain. Irritation, joy, anticipation. And in both the artwork really shines through.


Rain3 copy


In RAIN! a grumpy old guy is not a fan of rain. A young boy dressed in his frog rain coat revels in it. You can tell by their speech, their actions, and even by their tones of voice and faces when they say the same thing—genius!


Rain6 copy


I love how a young person’s joie de vivre can turn someone else’s grumpity grump into a ribbity hippity-hop. It’s a wonderful book with happy, striking, and modern collage illustrations by Robinson, 2014 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award.



Thanks to Christian Robinson for the images!


In UMBRELLA, Momo (a sweet name that means “peach” in Japanese) receives an umbrella and rain boots for her third birthday. She wants badly to use them, but New York refuses to rain. Momo must wait and wait and wait and wait.




The illustrations are bright, colorful, and moody.


Putting on Pink Boots



And what I like most about this book is perhaps that it’s not about an umbrella so much after all. It’s about waiting and growing up. Because the first time it rains and Momo uses her umbrella, she holds its handle instead of her parents’ hands. It’s her first step of independence. It was worth the wait.


Blue Umbrella Pink Boots



Umbrella images via The Art of Children’s Picture Books


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Come on, Rain (a summer rainstorm); Mud (in all its gloppiness); Who Likes the Rain? (rain explained).


/ / / / / / /


You know what gets me in a good mood? Not rain necessarily, though we need it badly here in Los Angeles, but umbrellas. Rain gear. There’s something inherently happy about the choicest of those. So here goes.


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1.) hunter umbrella; 2.) ROSES coat; 3.) chooka dot rain boots.


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1.) yellow rain jacket; 2.) frog rain coat; 3.) bubble dots umbrella; 4.) silver rain boots.


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1.) striped umbrella; 2.) nightfall rain boots; 3.) packed lunch rain coat.


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1.) bulldog umbrella; 2.) Swedish fisherman’s rain coat; 3.) men’s Tretorn olive boots.


Happy April showers, guys!