Knockin' On Wood

By School Library Journal

This inspiring biography of Clayton ‘Peg Leg’ Bates, who lost his left leg in a cottonseed mill accident in 1919 at the age of 12, chronicles the man’s amazing life from his days as the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina to his rise to fame as a tap dancer. His special step, the American Jet Plane, in which he “tapped across the stage, leaped five feet into the air, and landed on his peg leg with the other leg straight out” won over black and white audiences alike. Still, he was never allowed to eat or sleep in the same restaurants and hotels enjoyed by white vaudeville performers. Eventually he became so famous that he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and in movies, performed for the king and queen of England, and opened his own resort in the Catskills. Barasch’s watercolor-and-ink cartoon paintings capture the poverty of the dancer’s early life, the adulation of his fans, and his joyous love of dancing. Vignettes across a spread depict him performing typical tap steps in his own unique way. A final photograph of Bates in action is complemented by his words: “Don’t look at me in sympathy,/I’m glad that I’m this way./I feel good, knockin’ on wood.” Pair this with Kathleen Krull’s Wilma Unlimited (Harcourt, 1996) for a look at some real-life heroes.