Category: Nonfiction


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Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers, illustrated by George Mendoza and Hayley Morgan-Sanders

George loved to move, so he decided to be a basketball player.  Then one day the world outside looked red to him and he started to see other colorful squiggles in the air and suffer from constant headaches.  The doctor told him that he was going blind, but George didn’t lose all of his sight, instead he continued to see bright colors and flashing lights.  He had to stop playing basketball because he could no longer see the basket.  Eventually, George took up running, mostly because it made him so tired that he could forget being blind.  He could run very fast, so fast that he went to the Olympics, twice.  But George continued to see a world of colors that no one else could see.  It wasn’t until a friend was killed that he started to ask himself why he was there, and George started to talk about being blind to groups and also to paint the world that he sees.

A truly inspirational story, Mendoza is an example of someone being incredible resilient in the face of a life-changing disability.  The fact that he began to run after losing his sight is amazing and also inspiring.  But it is his visions and his art that shine on the page, a world painted in colors that only he can see.  The process of George becoming an artist is shown in all of its slow progression which also gives the sense that there is time to find your path, time to be the person you are meant to be.

Seeing his paintings on the page is immensely powerful.  They are bold and bright, done in thick lines.  They have a voice to them that shouts on the page and they tell the story of what George sees more clearly than any words can. 

Highly recommended, this picture book biography is a powerful tale of resilience and overcoming barriers.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from pdf received from J.L. Powers.

mr ferris and his wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

After the Eiffel Tower stunned World’s Fair visitors in 1889, it was up to Chicago to impress people at their 1893 World’s Fair.  So a nationwide contest was announced, but unfortunately many of the designs were just slightly-modified Eiffel Towers, so all of them were rejected.  George Ferris was an American engineer who had already designed big bridges, tunnels and roads across the nation.  He had an idea for a structure that would not just rival the stature of the Eiffel Tower, but would also move and be able to be ridden.  The judges of the contest reluctantly agreed to let him try, but would not offer him a penny of funding.  Ferris managed to find a few wealthy investors to help him and construction began on the huge project of creating a delicate wheel that would be strong enough to turn filled with people.  The tale of the building and invention of this now iconic ride is rich with suspense and the delight of accomplishment.

Davis has written a very successful picture book biography on George Ferris and his delight of an invention.  Occasionally in the text, there are sections in smaller font that offer more details and information.  It is all fascinating and those sections will be enjoyed as much as the main text.  Davis clearly explains differences between today and the late 1800s, such as the lack of Internet to carry ideas.  The story has plenty of dangers, lots of action and the ever-present danger of failure to carry it forward and make it enjoyable reading.

Ford’s illustrations are filled with rich, deep colors that capture different times of day.  They are a winning mix of straight, firm lines and hand-drawn characters and structures.  The play of the two on the page makes for illustrations that are eye-catching and that draw you into the story and the time period.

This is a particularly strong picture book biography that children will pick up thanks to the everlasting appeal of the Ferris Wheel.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

alice waters and the trip to delicious

Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Hayelin Choi

A follow-up to Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, Martin continues to focus on food creators in this new book about Alice Waters.  It follows Waters from her studies in France where she learned about food.  When she returned home, she wanted to share her food finds with her friends but her home was too small to accommodate all of them.  So she created a new kind of restaurant that was like eating in someone’s home, Chez: Panisse.  The book follows Waters on her quest to find fresh, locally-grown foods and produce.  It finishes with her focus on children learning to grow their own foods in schoolyards across the country.  This is a picture book biography that will inspire young readers to grow, eat, and discover their own trip to delicious.

Martin’s text reads as verse on the page, the stanzas unrhymed but spare and filled with moments in Waters’ life that are worth lingering over.  Martin explains in simple terms what the goals of Waters are, but she also manages to inspire and let the ideas soar upwards on the page.  She invites young readers to dream their own dreams, offering them a book about how one person accomplished theirs. 

Choi’s art has a great feel to it with a mix of bright colors and a strong organic feel that is entirely appropriate to Waters.  Throughout the illustrations, readers will see how important people are to Waters’ accomplishments from her friends to her team at the restaurants to the children who plant their school gardens. 

A dynamic and delicious look at the life of Alice Waters, filled with all of the mouth-watering moments of her life.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Readers to Eaters.

who was here

Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks by Mia Posada

The riddle of animal tracks is deciphered here in a fun guessing game.  The tracks of each animal are displayed along with information about the tracks and the animal that left them.  Readers then turn the page to see whether they guessed right about what animal left those tracks.  The pages with the animal have scientific information about the animal, their size, weight and their tracks.  Tracks are left in mud, snow, sand and more.  These too are hints about the animals, making the book speak to habitat too.  This interactive book will have children embracing science and learning about animals without even realizing it.

Posada encourages children to learn more in the final pages of her book.  She gives hints to decode animal tracks, offering ideas of what to look for in unknown tracks to help identify them.  The book ends with links to websites and recommended books to read.  Posada uses the page turn to great effect in this book, allowing the reveal to be a big part of the delight of reading this book.  The guessing game element will be popular in story times but also for single readers. 

Done in watercolor and collage, the illustrations have dimension and texture.  The animals pop on the page and their tracks are clear and beautiful.  When Posada has two creatures from the same habitat, their tracks are well defined and clearly different from one another.  This adds to the fun of the read.

A nonfiction picture book that children will enjoy, this readable and accessible book will be a hit at any story time.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.

pilot and the little prince 

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis

Born in a time when airplanes were just arriving in the skies, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery had dreams of flying himself.  At age 12, Antoine made his own flying machine that didn’t work.  He spent his days at the nearby airfield watching the pilots fly.  He even convinced one of them to take him up with him.  After serving in the military, Antoine took a job delivering the mail by plane.  Antoine was put in charge of an isolated airfield himself.  It was there that he started to write, but he also kept on flying, helping create new air routes in South America.  He returned to France eventually and got married.  He continued to both write and fly even after moving to New York, having famous adventures and also creating his beloved Little Prince.

Sis beautifully shows the life of a man with two strong passions: writing and aviation.  He very effectively ties the two together, showing how they support one another though they may seem so separate and apart.  This is a book less about the creative process of an artist and more about the adventures that he had that inspired his writing and the eventual creation of a character who is beloved around the world. 

As always, Sis’ illustrations are dazzling in their minute details.  He playfully puts faces on mountains that form the landscape below the plane.  He creates the Manhattan skyline in fine lines with the red of the sun peeking over the horizon.  And then there are the smaller touches on the page that one lingers over and that add further information as well.

A dynamic picture book biography of an unusual author, this book demonstrates that there are many paths to becoming a writer and that the best path is your very own.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

cosmobiography of sun ra

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka

Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka has both written and illustrated this picture book biography of the jazz musician Sun Ra.  Sun Ra claimed that he came from Saturn.  He came to earth in 1914 in Alabama and he was named Herman and called Sonny.  From the very beginning, Sonny loved music.  He learned to be a musician as a young child and also studied about philosophy.  As a teen, Sun Ra was already a professional musician.  When World War II came, he refused to become a soldier and instead was labeled a conscientious objector.  After the war, Sun Ra returned to his music and formed The Arkestra.  They made wild jazz music, created their own costumes, and toured the world sharing their music.  Sun Ra left earth in 1993, having changed it for the better with his music.

Raschka has created a celebration of Sun Ra on these pages.   His text is playful and invites readers into the book.  It opens with the idea that Sun Ra was from Saturn and scoffs at that, but then plays along with it as a premise throughout the book.  Intelligently, children are invited in on the humor and can see what is really happening that way.

Raschka’s illustrations are bright and loose.  They suit the jazz of the music with their free flowing lines, deep colors and they way they capture landscapes as well.  These are illustrations that celebrate music on a deep level.

A beautiful picture book about a jazz legend, this picture book should be welcome in all library collections.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

tuesday tucks me in

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Solider and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalván

A child-friendly version of this author’s adult book about his service dog, this picture book version is told from the dog’s point of view.  Focusing on a single day together, the book shows how Tuesday takes care of Luis and helps him cope with his PTSD symptoms as they arise.  Tuesday also helps Luis remember to take his medication.  The two visit a veterans hospital together and then relax a bit at the dog park where Tuesday gets to play just like any other dog.  Throughout their day together in the city, Tuesday is there to reassure Luis when walking, when it gets too crowded, and when he gets overwhelmed.  But this is a special day and Luis has a surprise for Tuesday! 

This book tells such an important story, not only about a service dog but about the recovery of a veteran surviving PTSD.  The text is simple and straight forward, following the pair throughout their day.  What shines from the page are the pictures, the obvious love the two have for one another, the joy they find together, and the support that goes both directions.  Tuesday is wonderful in images, just the kind of gentle dog that everyone wants to love. 

Children who need service dog help will see themselves on the page.  The book expands the idea of what service dogs are for, offering a broader look at the power of these dogs to aid and calm. 

A very strong nonfiction picture book, this would make a good addition to dog story times and units on soldiers.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

not my girl

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Continue the story of When I Was Eight with this second picture book by the authors.  The picture book versions follow two highly acclaimed novels for elementary-aged children that tell the same story at a different level.  In this book, Margaret returns home to her native family from the outsiders’ school.  Her hair has been cut short, she has trouble speaking the language of her people, and her skills are more suited to school than life in the Arctic.  When her mother sees her for the first time, she exclaims “Not my girl!” and rejects her daughter.  Slowly, Margaret begins to rebuild her old life and relearn the ways of her family and their traditional life.  But it takes time to be accepted by her mother and to find her way around her newly reunited family.

The Fenton family writes all of their books from the heart, clearly creating a case for the damage of the white people and their schools on the lives of Native people and their children.  This book serves as the other side of the story from When I Was Eight, demonstrating that even when children were returned to their families it was not easy to integrate once again into that society because of the changes wrought by the schooling system.

Grimard’s illustrations show the Arctic landscape, the way Margaret doesn’t fit in with her clothing or her ways.  It also shows the love of her father, his patience and understanding and the slow thaw of her mother and her anger.  Grimard captures these emotions with a delicacy and understanding of all of them.

Another impressive entry into the story of Margaret and her childhood, this book should be paired with the first picture book to best understand Margaret’s story.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

edward hopper paints his world

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Released August 19, 2014.

Even as a child, Edward Hopper lived as an artist.  He spent his days drawing as much as he could, preferring drawing to playing baseball with the other boys.  After high school, he headed off to New York City to study art.  Then Hopper went to Paris to learn even more, spending time painting outside.  When he returned to the US, he got a job as an illustrator for magazines, but wanted to spend time painting what he wanted to, not for others.  He started painting old houses in his work and after getting married he spent time wandering the countryside on Cape Cod, finding scenes that moved him and they weren’t the typical images of gardens and farms.  He also painted things in the city that spoke to him.  Eventually the critics and galleries discovered Hopper and he gained attention, but it didn’t change him, even his final work speaks to his unique vision and approach.

Burleigh has written a book about an important American painter but even more than that, he has captured the small things that made him great.  The book speaks to the importance of allowing yourself time to learn a craft and getting an education.  It also speaks to staying true to yourself and your vision whether it is accepted at the time or not.  And then there is the importance of perseverance and following your dream even if it doesn’t make a lot of money.  Hopper teaches all of this in his quiet way.

Minor’s artwork shines in this picture book.  He brilliantly captures the feel of Hopper’s work without copying it directly but these images are also clearly Minor’s own as well.  Pictures of some of Hopper’s most famous work is shared at the end of the book and it is there that one realizes what a profound mix of two artists’ work has happened here.

A very strong addition to the growing collection of picture book biographies about artists, this book has much to offer budding young artists as well as art classes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Wendell Minor.

of course they do

Of Course They Do!: Boys and Girls Can Do Anything by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol

This very simple book filled with crisp photographs takes on gender stereotypes and proves them quickly wrong.  The book starts with things that boys don’t do, like “Boys don’t cook.”  Turn the page and the counter to the stereotype is given with a photograph of a chef and the words “Are you sure?”  The book then moves on to stereotypes about girls, like them not playing sports. 

The format is engaging and fresh.  Having the more traditional gender role on one page and then the correction on next works particularly well, since it gives children a chance to realize that they themselves may think some of these things.  I also like that the format asks questions on the pages where the stereotype is being disputed.  This too lets children have the ability to change their mind rather than be defensive about what they had been thinking. 

The illustrations are all photographs and are bright and clear.  Many of them are close ups of faces that prove the point that girls and boys can do so many things.  Throughout the book there is clear diversity as well.

Clear and intelligently designed, this book will be welcome for units about gender.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

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