Sunday, 14 April 2013

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald


Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Candlewick)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780763664589
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Ella’s story begins in Yonkers, New York, in 1930 when there wasn’t much money around. But nickels always fell when thirteen year old Ella Fitzgerald danced, for music hadn’t reached her mouth yet. It was a time when Jazz music poured from every house and Harlem was 45 minutes and a world away.

Ella was determined to be famous. All she needed was for someone to notice her. She saved her nickels and dimes and travelled to Harlem. There she watched the dancers and copied their steps, and came back to Yonkers to dance the new moves. And more nickels fell.

Ella’s life twisted out of shape when her mother died suddenly. Her mother’s boyfriend treated her badly, so her aunt Virginia took Ella to Harlem to live. Ella had lost more than her mother. Now her friends, home, school, and dancing jobs were gone. Worst of all, aunt Virginia offered nothing more than food and shelter to the orphaned child who was tough on the outside but ‘milky and silky and soft and shy’ inside.

Breaking the law meant a school for orphans. This was a nightmare for Ella and after two years, she escaped and ended up on Seventh Avenue where furs and jewels reigned, and where Ella found she could sing as well as dance. Homeless, but supported in various ways by charity, she entered the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night and won. But her lack of clothing and poor appearance found her still singing for coins on the street.

It was the Harlem Opera House Amateur Night win that changed the course of Ella’s life, and she was invited to sing with Chick Webb’s band.

Ella Fitzgerald’s life is a success born of tragedy as are many great artists’ lives. Beautifully and emotively portrayed through the text and illustrations, this moving biography is accompanied by a wonderful bibliography for further reading, a listening list, a view list, a referenced website, and an Index.

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