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: 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 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 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!: 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.
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien
This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist. Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly. He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals. When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats. He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm. Alan became the first person to study jaguars. In Belize he felt at home in the jungle. He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction. But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?
This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true. It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has. And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer. Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.
Chien’s art is rich and varied. She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles. She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.
An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins
Explore different types of animal eyes in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book by the amazing Steve Jenkins. In this book, Jenkins not only talks about the different kinds of animals eyes, explaining them in just the right amount of detail, but also looks at specific animals and their unique eyes. Jenkins shares lots of facts, carefully chosen to be fascinating and fun. One never knows what will be found on the next page and whether it will be looking right at you.
Jenkins makes sure that children will learn about evolution in this picture book. His emphasis throughout is on the evolution from simple light-sensitive eyespots to the complex camera eyes of humans and hawks. As always, his information is well-chosen and interesting. It is accompanied by large-format images that are paired with smaller images that show the animals entire body. This is science information at its best.
The eyes have it! This is a book that belongs in all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illustrated by Brian Floca
This is the true story of Elizabeth, an elephant seal, who decided she wanted to live in the warm waters of the Avon River near the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. People are happy to have Elizabeth in the river, often spending time watching her swim. Then Elizabeth decides that her favorite place to sun is the middle of a two-lane road. It is flat and warm and perfect, except for the dangers of the cars to both Elizabeth and the people. So Elizabeth is towed out to sea, to live with the other elephant seals. But Elizabeth returns. She is removed to the sea over and over again, each time taking her farther away from Christchurch. But she still finds her way back to those warm river waters.
Cox, a famous long-distance, open-water swimmer, has written her first children’s book here. One would never know that it is her first. She writes with a grace and simplicity that make her book entirely readable but also poetic too. She incorporates imagery that will help children understand Elizabeth better: “Moving up the soft shore like a giant inchworm.” She also uses descriptive language to draw contrasts between the waters in the river and those in the cold sea.
Floca, winner of the 2014 Caldecott Medal, uses his fine-line drawings to show the merry spirit of Elizabeth both when she is in the warm river waters and upon her amazing returns after being towed away. Floca’s illustrations of Elizabeth on the warm road and her surprise but lack of alarm when the cars approach are beautifully done.
A winning story that tells the story of one unique elephant seal and the town that she decided was her home. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor
A story of evolution and extinction, this picture book explores the incredible life of the famous Lonesome George a tortoise who was the last of his kind. The book begins by explaining how a million years ago a tortoise was driven from South America and carried to the island of San Cristobal near the equator. There she laid eggs, used her long neck to reach food, and passed on her genetics. Thousands of years later, all of the turtles looked different with long necks and shells that curved back to give their necks more room. When humans discovered the Galapagos Islands, they quickly decimated the turtle population which dwindled down to only a few thousand from the hundreds of thousands that had lived there. A hundred years later, the giant tortoise population had reduced even further, so that one lone turtle remained. He was moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station and protected but no other turtle of the species was ever found.
George creates a vivid story of the power of evolution in our world and the effects of humans on animal species. She steadily shows how weather forces and natural disasters impact animals as well, moving them from place to place and changing their habitats. As the animals change slowly, George keeps the text clear and factual, making for a book that moves quickly and is filled with fascinating scientific information.
Minor’s illustrations are lush and lovely. They are filled with the light of sun, bursting on the horizon in tropical colors. He also shows the barren landscape of the Galapagos clearly and the frank regard of a tortoise looking right at the reader. There is a sense of loneliness for much of the book both when the book is about the first tortoise and then later when there is one left. That connection between the two lone turtles is made clearly in the illustrations.
Fascinating, distressing and yet ultimately hopeful, this nonfiction picture book will work well in science classrooms as well as library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.