Knockin' On Wood

By Publishers Weekly

Barasch presents a solid picture-book biography of African-American tap dancer Clayton ‘Peg Leg’ Bates, born in South Carolina in 1907. Hating to work in the fields alongside his sharecropper mother, the boy would dance for patrons of the local barbershop; at the age of 12, he took a job at a cottonseed mill, where an accident cost him his leg. But, as Barasch tells it, the ‘musical rhythms in his head that he just had to let out’ inspired the young Clayton to learn to walk again, first with crutches made from broomsticks, and then with a wooden leg whittled by his uncle. Clayton went on to develop his own ‘brand of rhythm tap’ which he demonstrated first for black audiences and, later, wearing blackface to disguise his skin color, in vaudeville theaters restricted to white performers and audiences. Eventually, Peg Leg’s reputation eliminated the need for disguise, as he danced on TV, in movies — and even for the king and queen of England. The author interjects details that underscore the racism that Bates encountered; for example, his leg was amputated at the kitchen table, since hospital surgery wasn’t available to poor blacks in the South at the time… a credible introduction to a memorable and remarkably resolute dancer.