Swing Sisters: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans is my pick for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday in honor of Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Teacher’s Appreciation Week, both celebrated in the month of May.
Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda
Publisher: Holiday House (January 1, 2015)
Suitable for ages: 7-11
Themes: women in music, educational activism, integration, jazz, gender studies, perseverance, inspiration, US history, Jim Crow laws, stereotypes
Brief Synopsis: This book brings attention to the first interracial all female jazz/swing band, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm formed in 1939 at Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi. The band became popular in the 1940’s and toured the US and Europe.
The story opens by bringing attention to Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, a black educator who started a school in 1909 for orphans in Mississippi. Music education eventually became a part of the school’s curriculum and many of the Sweethearts were part of the school band.
Swing Sisters highlights the struggles these women endured from society because of both race and gender.
Opening pages: “Way back in 1909, not far from Jackson, Mississippi, there was a special place for orphans It was called Piney Woods Country Life School.
A man named Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones started the school. He wanted to make sure these African American kids had a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a good education. In return, the children worked at the school to earn their keep. Some planted seeds and picked weeds outside on the farm; others chopped vegetables in the kitchen or did laundry.”
Why I like this book: A great example of history using a story that inspires and educates. During one of the most difficult times in US history when the intent of oppression from Jim Crow laws was to prevent African Americans from achievement, this band of talented women, black and white, formed and succeeded in entertaining Americans and Europeans.
Further research shows Dr. Jones came from a family of educators, with an uncle who started a school back in 1846. When Dr. Jones learned about a county in Mississippi that had an eighty percent illiteracy rate, he moved there from Missouri and eventually started Piney Woods Country Life School.
Resources: See the Teacher’s Guide here. Listen to their story on NPR. Listen to them play! Dare you not to boogie!
For more of today’s book reviews from May 15, 2015, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.
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