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Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Terri Schichenmeyer | 9/15/2010, 5 p.m.

How many songs do you know by heart?

If you counted them up, you might see that you know a lot of them. You know about rowing a boat, and the birthday song. You can sing about an old man who played "one," an eensy weensy spider, the A-B-Cs, and you might even know the words to a few songs that you hear on the radio.

You love to sing, but a girl named Ella had to sing. It was in her blood, and in the new book "Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald" (c.2010, Candlewick Press, $17.99 / $21 Canada, 48 pages) by Roxane Orgill, and illustrated by Sean Qualls, you'll learn her story.

Who wants to do washing and ironing, when it's more fun to make music? Not Ella, who loved to sing harmony with her little sister and their mother. Songs stayed with Ella so long that she took them to school, and danced as she sang.

At 13, Ella wasn't pretty. Her eyes were squinty and her mouth was too big, but boy, could she sing. She loved to practice with her friend, Charlie, and people threw pocket change on the sidewalk just for the pleasure of watching them perform.

But Ella knew that there were other dances and more songs to learn, so she and Charlie took their nickels, jumped on the trolley, and headed for Harlem, and the Savoy Ballroom. All the new dances and all the best songs were at the Savoy, and Ella and Charlie brought "happy feet" back to Yonkers with them.

But Ella wasn't happy for long.

When she was just 14, Ella's mother died, and she had to move in with her aunt and cousins, but her aunt didn't love her like Mama did. The aunt's home was just a roof and meals. Ella became a "rough-tough raggedy cat" and started to get into trouble. She was soon sent to a school for orphans, where she couldn't wait to escape ...

And when she finally got a chance to skit-scat-skedaddle, she went right back to Harlem, a place where beautiful ladies wore fancy dresses and where nobody would find Ella. In Harlem, young girls with talent--even if they were raggedy cats--could enter contests, sing their hearts out, get a lucky break, and make dreams come true.

"Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald" is a bit of a conundrum. The pictures are wonderfully evocative of the Depression Era and their color and line-drawn simplicity will appeal to younger children, but the narrative in this book is too long for squirmy picture-book fans.

That same lengthy narrative is just right for older children, but the pictures may be perceived as too toddler-ish. And then there's the issue of modern music versus 80-year-old hits: Which will win their attention more?

Still, despite the issues I had with it, I think the right angle plus an iPod or Internet connection could make this book into a meaningful read-aloud. If your kids need to learn about music other than Snoop Dogg or Bow Wow, "Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald" is purrfect.