Juba!

by Walter Dean Myers

William Henry Lane was an African American dancer who went by the name Master Juba.... read more

William Henry Lane was an African American dancer who went by the name Master Juba. Juba’s determination to make a living as a dancer is compelling as Myers sketches a few facts into full relief in this fictionalized account of the years between Juba’s young adulthood in New York City and death in Liverpool, England, at age 30. As he imagines Juba’s life in Five Points, Manhattan, in the 1840s, Myers reveals a vibrant young man full of creativity and schemes to live his dream. The many cultures in Five Points, especially Irish, all contribute to Juba’s dance steps, but he makes them into his own in inspired performances. When Charles Dickens sees Juba dance he is so taken he writes about Juba when he returns to England. That helps pave the way when Juba joins an otherwise all-white traveling troupe. Pell’s (Minstrel) Singers with Juba as a member head overseas and are initially able to capitalize on the Dicken’s publicity. Eventually, the group’s star fades. He marries Sarah, a white English woman, but he dies in a poor house while searching for work, his final love letter to her unsent. Myers deftly and deeply examines the racism that is a constant factor and force in Juba’s life, including a discussion of the use of blackface that parallels considerations today about the N-word. An author’s note examines the small gathering of facts and conjecture that formed the basis for a novel full of energy and poignancy. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2016

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