Knockin' on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Peg Leg Bates, the subject of this book, was a real man born on a sharecropper farm in South Carolina. His mother was so poor, even though she worked day and night in the hot sun planting and picking cotton, that she was seldom able to provide her son Clayton with shoes. By age 5 Clayton had to help in the fields, but what he really loved to do was dance. He used to earn pennies dancing barefoot in barbershops around town, but when he was 12 years old, he had to go to work in a cotton factory to help support the family. He had been working there only three days when his left leg was caught in the cotton gin and had to be amputated. During his recovery he used two broom sticks to get around, but one day his uncle carved him an artificial leg, a peg leg, and it was not long before he started dancing again. There was no stopping him; he danced in vaudeville, in movies and even on the Ed Sullivan television show. Eventually he opened his own supper club in upstate New York where he continued to dance for his customers. Author Barrasch's illustrations bring the story to life for young readers. This book about a remarkable black man and his triumph over adversity would be an excellent addition to any elementary school library. 2004, Lee and Low Books, Ages 6 to 8.
—Eleanor Heldrich
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-This inspiring biography of Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates, who lost his left leg in a cottonseed mill accident in 1919 at the age of 12, chronicles the man's amazing life from his days as the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina to his rise to fame as a tap dancer. His special step, the American Jet Plane, in which he "tapped across the stage, leaped five feet into the air, and landed on his peg leg with the other leg straight out" won over black and white audiences alike. Still, he was never allowed to eat or sleep in the same restaurants and hotels enjoyed by white vaudeville performers. Eventually he became so famous that he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and in movies, performed for the king and queen of England, and opened his own resort in the Catskills. Barasch's watercolor-and-ink cartoon paintings capture the poverty of the dancer's early life, the adulation of his fans, and his joyous love of dancing. Vignettes across a spread depict him performing typical tap steps in his own unique way. A final photograph of Bates in action is complemented by his words: "Don't look at me in sympathy,/I'm glad that I'm this way./I feel good, knockin' on wood." Pair this with Kathleen Krull's Wilma Unlimited (Harcourt, 1996) for a look at some real-life heroes.-Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Little Clayton Bates loved to dance. "He had no shoes, so he danced barefoot. He had no music, so he made dance rhythms by clapping his hands and tapping his feet." This down-home opening sets the stage for the remarkable career of Peg Leg Bates, a black vaudevillian who lost his leg in a cottonseed mill at the age of 12, but who went on to become one of the most accomplished dancers in show business. Line-and-watercolor illustrations depict a smiling Bates tapping his way from black-only audiences to the Ed Sullivan show, movies, and even a star turn for George VI, the text emphasizing how his love for dancing kept him going in the face of bigotry. It's a very neat story, told briefly but effectively; the illustrations are full of movement and flair, though one might wish for more facial details to differentiate individuals. Where this offering truly fails, however, is in its utter lack of documentation; there's not even an author's note to fill in the gaps (though an excellent black-and-white photograph of Bates attests to his exuberance). A real pity. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600609800
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,102,465
  • Age range: 5 - 11 Years

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