Andrea Davis Pinkney celebrates the legacy of a jazz diva in Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa. The illustration on the cover a joyous Ella sailing triumphantly through a starry sky promises riches within, and the book delivers. Separated not into chapters but into tracks, like an LP, the story is narrated by Scat Cat, a cool-looking feline who swings nonchalantly from a streetlamp in a purple zoot suit. The tale begins with Ella as a big-boned, unconventionally pretty, wildly talented girl who dances on street corners in Harlem and finds herself at age 17 at the Apollo Theater, winning over its notoriously tough audience. Scat Cat follows her as she joins Chick Webb's orchestra, which has a standing gig at the Savoy Ballroom. There's an absolutely delicious picture of the ballroom filled with ecstatic lindy hopping dancers, including Scat Cat, who's getting jiggy with a lady in a green plaid dress. Ella's amazing voice, which some thought too sweet and perfect not raunchy enough for jazz helped Chick's orchestra beat Benny Goodman in an exhausting, historic five-hour battle of the bands on May 11, 1937. The story follows Ella to Dizzy Gillespie's band and recounts the maturation of her scat style. Another amazing picture shows the singer with Diz, flying over the moon (How High the Moon was a hit of theirs) with Scat Cat in tow.
Andrea Davis Pinkney writes with a playful knowledge of her subject, and the reader can just hear the voice of Scat Cat one of those low, gravelly, sexy whispers, just purrrfect for the subject. Brian Pinkney's wonderful drawings are rendered in scratchboard, tinted with transparent luma dyes and painted with purple and green acrylics. Pinkney also did the lush illustrations for Robert D. San Souci's Cendrillon. Ella Fitzgerald is just as lush, and though it tactfully sidesteps some of the grittier facts of Ella's life, it's great for kids and their parents. Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.