1.06.2014

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald, by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls, 41 pp, RL 2



Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls is yet another fantastic title in the Candlewick Press Biographies series. There are a handful of decent series of biographies for kids second through fourth grade reading level and they all pretty much cover the same range of historical figures, celebrities and occasional artist, author, scientist or all-around spectacular person like Jim Henson, which is why I'm so thrilled to see this new series of biographies focusing on new previously underrepresented subjects. Candlewick Press's new line of biographies is dedicated to telling the true stories of remarkable people, illuminating a "turning point or defining moment in the life of a notable individual in the arts, sciences, or history." Four books in, and this series promises to be fantastic - from subjects to text to images. I am thrilled to see kids have more options to choose from when report time rolls around.


In addition to the unique choice of subjects, the style that these biographies are written in is perfectly suited to the subject, as in Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald. Orgill's lively writing captures the joy of movement that comes from singing and dancing. Yes, dancing! Ella Fitzgerald early aspirations and passions was dancing. The book begins with the three Boswell sisters singing with their mother, Tempie, Ella dancing and singing. Soon, she and her friend Charlie are earning nickels and pennies dancing the Susie Q on Morgan Street in Yonkers, New York in 1930 - a time, Orgill notes, when "folks did not have much change to spare." With the money they earn, Charlie and Ella,

put their nickels together and took the Number 1 trolley to the end of the line (five cents) . They climbed aboard the rumble-rumble subway train (five cents more) to 125th Street, New York City. They pushed through the turnstile, clambered down the stairs, and there it was: Harlem, at their feet. Dancing feet. Tap, tap, slide to the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Ave.

At the Savoy, Ella and Charlie learn new dances that earn them even more money until Ella gets a terrible blow. Her mother dies and she is sent to live with her Aunt in Harlem - away from her dance partner, away from her school and friends and into a home that is just a house. Orgill writes, "Ella might have been happy if her aunt Virginia had been able to give her some comfort and affection. but Virginia Williams offered meals and a roof, and nothing more." Ella Fitzgerald's life was a a struggle, almost from the start. Orgill includes this in her biography, but in a very appropriate, understanding way for young readers, putting her experiences in context. Things go from bad to worse for Ella and she is sent to a school for orphans where all the girls are treated horribly, the colored girls even worse. Ella makes her way back to Harlem, living "anywhere and nowhere," a "half-starved raggedy cat of seventeen." Despite her impoverished appearance, Ella finds herself on the stage of the Apollo competing in a talent competition. Wearing donated men's boots, she forgoes the dancing and focuses on her singing and wins! Despite winning more competitions, her appearance keeps her from being hired to sing with a band until Charles Linton introduces her to Chick Webb, a true turning point.


While I was interested to learn that Ella was as much a dancer as a singer from early on, I was fascinated to learn that it was Ella who wrote "A Tisket A Tasket," the song that gave the Chick Webb Band their first ever number one hit, cementing their popularity and paving the way to a more comfortable life. Orgill ends her biography, "So long, Skit-Skat Raggedy Cat. It's Rowdy-Dowdy High Hat Baby now." Sean Qualls's illustrations in Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald are wonderful, capturing the movement and happiness in dancing and singing, tempering the bleaker moments. The illustrations take up most of the page without the text overwhelming them, making the book inviting to reluctant readers. Orgill provides a fantastic bibliography as well as suggested listening, viewing and websites worth visiting. After reading Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald, I had a great time taking Orgill's suggestions and listening to the First Lady of Song with a new appreciation.



Other books in this fantastic series of biographies about important Americans:














Source: Review Copy

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