Hey, Charleston!: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band
By: Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by: Colin Bootman
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: November 2013
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: December 2013
Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins peered through the open door of a boxcar. A small group of barefoot boys huddled together as the moonlight lit up the sky. If he listened closely he could have probably heard their stomachs growling and their “teeth chattering from the cold.” A one-time orphan himself, there was only one place to take the boys and that was to his church. Reverend Jenkins plied those tummies with “hot soup” and gave them “warm blankets and a place to sleep.” The church door kept opening and anxious faces looked toward him for help. A small church was not enough room, but when he asked the town he soon had a warehouse and “they gave him a hundred dollars besides.”
Angry voices emanated from a nearby prison, but under Reverend Jenkins’s direction the orphans sang to drown them out. There were musical instruments left over from the Civil War and when he asked the people of Charleston for them, they came. Brass, percussion, and woodwinds came through the doors and the Jenkins Orphanage Band flourished because teachers weren’t far behind. Many of the “orphans were descended from the Geechee or Gullah people” and the band danced as the notes flowed into the air. When they played people would ask, “Give us some rag!” More money was needed so the band would head to New York. Would they make more money there than on the streets of Charleston?
This is an amazingly interesting story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band young readers will love. The book is set up in a picture book format, but the storyline is detailed enough to pull in all kinds of readers from the reluctant to the confident and beyond. Of course the orphans would dance and the imitators were soon dancing none other than the Charleston, a wildly popular dance in the 1920s. The vibrant artwork has an aura that launches the reader into the distant past to watch the young orphans grow into awe-inspiring musicians and dancers. In the back of the book is an author’s note giving more information about the band and a selected bibliography.
Quill says: Young readers will love this amazing story of how young people made their own kind of music!