By: Richard Michelson
Illustrated By: E.B Lewis
Publisher: Gulliver Books
Publication Date: November 2005
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: September 2009
Happy Feet is the captivating story about the night the Savoy Ballroom, Harlem’s “hottest, most magnificent dancing palace” opened its doors in 1926. Told by “Happy Feet,” a young boy given the nickname because he was born on the day the Savoy opened, the book chronicles that wonderful night when people from all around, both “blacks and whites, rich and poor, came together to dance.”
Happy Feet opens in the father’s shoeshine shop where the young boy, true to his nickname, is tapping his feet. He tells the reader that he was born on a special day, the day the Savoy Ballroom opened. He then recounts how his father built up his shop in anticipation of all the new customers who would be strolling by on their way to the Savoy. We meet several vibrantly named characters, from Long-Legged George to Twistmouth and Musclehead (all real people). From here, the story moves to the dance floor and all the fun people had swinging and moving to the great music. Soon Happy Feet is dreaming that his name might one day be up on the marquee at the Savoy.
The easy flowing narrative is sure to draw young readers into the story and spur their imaginations. There are many descriptive passages such as, “It was the day the doors sung open on the earth’s hottest, coolest, most magnificent, superdeluxe dancing palace. The Savoy!” The story soon takes on a beat of its own as Happy Feet’s father recalls, “The cats were clapping, the floor was bouncing, and my heart was beating.” The watercolors that accompany Happy Feet beautifully illustrate both life within the shoeshine shop and the dancers at the Savoy. As the pages turn and the music heats up, the dancers blur into a mass of movement, conveying the excitement of that night long ago.
Quill says: Happy Feet will get your child’s feet tapping.