Back in December, I near fell out of my chair when I found out that we were publishing a picture book about Ella Fitzgerald. It's called Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald written by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls. There are so many wonderful things about this book. Orgill, who writes picture books about historical figures (including one on Fred and Adele Astaire!), is a fabulous writer and Qualls' illustrations are rich and lush (I can't stand faded pastels that are so common in kids books these days).
I was trying to figure out something unique to call out the title on the company's Facebook page. So I took a moment to read the inside flap of the dust jacket to learn more about the author and illustrator. The company tries to include quotes from the author or illustrator about what inspired them to write or illustrate the book. This is the quote from Orgill:
"Although I'd known Ella Fitzgerald's singing for ages, I didn't 'get' her until I saw a film clip of her singing 'A Tisket, A Tasket' standing in the aisle of a bus. She was both guileless child and determined adult, a combination I had never encountered. The image plus the sound was like opening a door."
Film clip? Film? What film? A classic film? Wait what? A clip from a classic film inspired this picture book?!
I immediately did Google searches and found the following clip from the Abbott and Costello film Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942):
Lyrics to A-Tisket, A-Tasket
A brown and yellow basket
I send a letter to my mommy
on the way I dropped it
I dropped it, I dropped it
yes on the way I dropped it
a little girlie picked it up
and put it in her pocket
She was truckin' on down the avenue
with not a single thing to do
she was a peck peck pecking all around
when she spied it on the ground
She took it, she took it
my little yellow basket
and if she doesn't bring it back
I think that I will die
Oh dear, I wonder where my basket can be?
Oh gee, I wish that little girl I could see?
Oh why was I so careless with that basket of mine?
That itty bitty basket was the joy of mine.
A tisket, A tasket
I lost my yellow basket
won't someone help me find my basket
and make me happy again
A-Tisket, A-Tasket was a very important song for Ella. She wrote the song, based on an old nursery rhyme, while she was traveling with the Chick Webb band. It was the first song that became a major radio hit for the band and put Ella Fitzgerald on the map in 1938. Four years later, she would sing the song again in her very first appearance in a motion picture.
I posted the clip of Ella singing "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" on Facebook almost immediately after finding it on YouTube. What better way to pitch the book than by showing the film clip that inspired it's creation? Then I e-mailed my good friend and co-worker Frank who just happens to be an Abbott and Costello enthusiast. I had never seen Ride 'Em Cowboy, nor any other Abbott and Costello film for that matter, and I didn't even know Ella Fitzgerald was ever even in a movie! Frank lent me the The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 1 which contained the film so I could see it for myself.
Ella Fitzgerald doesn't just have the "A Tisket, A Tisket" scene, she has a minor role in the film as Ruby, a member of a traveling rodeo. That's rodeo pronounced "row-day-oh" not "row-dee-oh". She has one other musical number singing "Rockin' and Reelin'" with The Merry Macs. You can watch that clip here.
If you are a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, make sure you check out both Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) as well as Orgill & Qualls picture book!
P.S. There is a giveaway on Goodreads for a copy of the book. I highly encourage you to sign up for the contest if you are a Goodreads member! The contest ends on Monday so hurry up.