Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

by Roxane Orgill, Sean Qualls
     
 

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A swinging bio of young Ella Fitzgerald, who pushed through the toughest of times to become one of America’s most beloved jazz singers.

When Ella Fitzgerald danced the Lindy Hop on the streets of 1930s Yonkers, passersby said good-bye to their loose change. But for a girl who was orphaned and hungry, with raggedy clothes and often no place to spend

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Overview

A swinging bio of young Ella Fitzgerald, who pushed through the toughest of times to become one of America’s most beloved jazz singers.

When Ella Fitzgerald danced the Lindy Hop on the streets of 1930s Yonkers, passersby said good-bye to their loose change. But for a girl who was orphaned and hungry, with raggedy clothes and often no place to spend the night, small change was not enough. One amateur night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Ella made a discovery: the dancing beat in her feet could travel up and out of her mouth in a powerful song —and the feeling of being listened to was like a salve to her heart. With lively prose, Roxane Orgill follows the gutsy Ella from school-girl days to a featured spot with Chick Webb’s band and all the way to her number-one radio hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." Jazzy mixed-media art by illustrator Sean Qualls brings the singer’s indomitable spirit to life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Orgill’s (Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire) fine biography of the singer crackles with tension and verve. Orphaned at 14, Ella bounces from unfeeling relatives to an orphanage, then to Harlem’s Seventh Avenue: “People took her in, gave her a meal and a bed. Or didn’t. In 1934, half of Harlem was out of work.” Many virtues distinguish Orgill’s writing: precious fragments of historical detail, flirtations with the flash of the spoken word (“He had a drumroll like a burst of gunfire”), and, most of all, heart (“This young lady’s got a gift she’d like to share with us tonight,” says an emcee when Fitzgerald falters at an early performance. “She’s just having a little trouble getting it out of its wrapper”). Qualls (Dizzy) creates spreads that reflect the propulsive trajectory of Fitzgerald’s life in an age when everybody was dancing; successive portraits show her turning page by page into a star. A puzzle: despite the title, there’s no mention of Fitzgerald’s scat singing. Readers won’t mind, though. An unforgettable portrait of an artist whose faith in herself carried her when little else did. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Ella Fitzgerald was not born to a privileged family. She did not take music lessons nor did she have many opportunities to nourish her talents, but she did have a mother who loved music. But when Ella's mother died, so did her security. Ella lived on the street, still hanging onto her love of jazz, auditioning at amateur competitions until she was noticed. She had nothing of material value, but her love and musical talent helped her rise to stardom. Orgill's lengthy but informative text has a rhythm to it. Scattered with jazz songs, the reader gets a feel for the rhythm of the jazz music that Fitzgerald loved so much. The text is also full of details that make this biography sing. The back matter includes references to other books about Fitzgerald, a list containing a selection of her albums, Internet resources and recommended films. Qualls' illustrations show the fluid movement of this jazz sensation. Highly recommended for classrooms, libraries, and gift giving to children who love music or inspirational biographies. Reviewer: Marcie Flinchum Atkins
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—As the title cleverly indicates, this book describes how the poor, "raggedy cat" scat-sang her way into jazz history. Orgill begins with Fitzgerald as a child dancing to her mother's records and closes with the 21-year-old woman joining the Chick Webb Band in Harlem. The interim includes frank, but not frightening, descriptions of Fitzgerald's tenure in an abusive orphanage and of the impoverished days when she slept where she could and sang on the streets for money. The prose account of Fitzgerald's life often includes sound effects that recall her unique vocal style. For instance, she does not run away from the orphanage, she dashes off in a "skit-scat skedaddle." Snatches of her famous songs are woven throughout the narrative. Meanwhile, Qualls firmly establishes himself as a leading illustrator of jazz biographies for children. He uses rich reds and blues to illustrate the history of this quintessentially American art form, just as he did for Jonah Winter's Dizzy (Scholastic, 2006) and Carole Boston Weatherford's Before John Was a Jazz Giant (Holt, 2008). His mixed media of acrylic, collage, and pencil capture the richness of Fitzgerald's life and song. The back matter provides plenty of resources for further reading, listening, and Web exploration.—Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
Kirkus Reviews

The author of accomplished biographies about Mahalia Jackson, Fred and Adele Astaire and others contributes a gem about Fitzgerald's early life in Yonkers and Harlem. The lively writing sings and swings along with Ella, who entertained schoolmates and danced for coins with her friend Charlie. Her mother's untimely death engendered many bad turns: Petty crime earned Ella time in a cruelly operated orphanage upstate. Orgill clearly shows that Fitzgerald's career and success were built on the winning combination of superb talent and sheer determination, with the teen, close to homeless, entering and winning amateur contests in Harlem. "She'd had a dancing beat in her feet ever since she was a bitty girl in Yonkers, and all she ever needed was a chance to send that beat traveling up through her body, into her throat, and out her mouth in a song." Qualls's sweet pictures, in signature tints of red and blue, convey the excitement of Harlem nightspots and provide pensive takes on the tough times Ella endured. The excellent annotated bibliography includes books, sound and video recordings and websites. (Picture book/biography. 5-11)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763664596
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
12/26/2012
Series:
Candlewick Biographies Series
Pages:
48
Sales rank:
1,433,320
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
820L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

"Although I’d known Ella Fitzgerald’s singing for ages, I didn’t ‘get’ her until I saw a film clip of her singing ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’ standing in the aisle of a bus. She was both guileless child and determined adult, a combination I had never encountered in all the singers I had known or researched." —Roxane Orgill

Roxane Orgill is an award-winning writer on music and the author of several biographies for young readers, including MAHALIA: A LIFE IN GOSPEL MUSIC AND FOOTWORK: THE STORY OF FRED AND ADELE ASTAIRE. She is also the author of DREAM LUCKY, a book for adults about big-band jazz, race, and politics in the 1930s. She lives in New York City.

Sean Qualls is the illustrator of many books for children, including DIZZY; BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT: A SONG OF JOHN COLTRANE; THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA: A BIOGRAPHY OF JUAN FRANCISCO MONZANO; and PHILLIS'S BIG TEST. He lives in Brooklyn.

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