Paula Fox did not begin writing until 1962 when she was thirty-nine years old, but since then she has enjoyed critical acclaim and praise from the many readers of her books. She writes fiction for children and novels for adults, and of all her books, The Slave Dancer has been the most widely praised and recognized. The book tells the story of thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier, who in 1840 is kidnapped from his New Orleans home and forced to play his fife on a slave ship while the slaves are "danced," or exercised. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1974, and Fox has also won the Hans Christian Andersen medal for her work.
Despite this praise, the book has also been the subject of controversy. Some critics believed it was racist and that it portrayed slaves unfairly, as despairing, weak people unable to fight for themselves, and, indeed, as responsible for their own enslavement. In addition, several characters in the book are racists, and their language and attitudes offended some readers.
However, most reviewers agree that Fox has impeccable control of the English language; The Slave Dancer, like her other books, has been widely praised for the poetry of Fox's prose, her rich imagery, and her mythic storytelling, as well as her deft handling of a topic many people previously considered too horrific for children to read about.