Tag: biographies

My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline Ransome

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)

Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.

The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.

Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.

A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

 

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu (InfoSoup)

Ada Lovelace was born the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron. But she was more like her mother and interested in numbers rather than words. As a young woman, Ada invented a flying machine that she did all of the mathematics for. She spent time experimenting with wind and sails to inform her calculations. Despite a health scare that left her blind and paralyzed for some time, Ada continued to learn math and love numbers. When she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, she found a person she could talk to about her love of numbers. It was his machine that inspired her to write the first computer program ever so that others could understand this amazing computer he had built. This makes Ada the first computer programmer.

It is inspiring to see a girl from such an early time period who was clearly a mathematical genius. She had a mother who was also interested in math and supported her daughter’s education and love of numbers throughout her life. This book shows the power of mathematics to inspire new ideas and inventions. It also demonstrates that women in computing goes back to the very beginning.

Chu’s art is done with pencil on paper and then as the copyright information says “colored on an Analytical Engine” also known as a computer. The illustrations are rich and lovely. They have interesting perspectives like looking down on Ada in the bath with her muddy boots on the floor nearby. Ada is shown as an active person, a youthful presence among older people, and shines on the page as she must have in life.

A powerful and inspirational read for children interested in math and science, this picture book will show young readers a heroine that they may never have met before. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (InfoSoup)

Award-winning author and illustrator, Tonatiuh brilliantly tells the story of Jose Guadalupe Posada. Called Lupe by his family, he showed artistic promise early in life. At age 18, he went to work in a print shop where he learned lithography and engraving. Lupe starting doing drawings for the small local paper, including political cartoons. Lupe eventually opened his own print shop and starting to create illustrations for books and pamphlets. After his shop was ruined in a flood, he moved with his family to Mexico City where he opened a new shop. Lupe began creating broadsides and that is where he started creating his calaveras or skeletons. Some have specific meanings while others are unknown, many of them make political commentary on Mexican society. Lupe was soon recognized for these prints more than any of the rest of his work. Posada continues to be known for these images thanks to other Mexican artists like Diego Rivera who investigated who had drawn the etchings.

Tonatiuh does a great job of telling the story of the full life of Posada while focusing on making it accessible to children and also making it a compelling tale. Readers will recognize some of the images in the book, creating a firm connection between the artist and the images. The story of Posada’s life is a mix of tragedy and accomplishment, rather like the images he created. The Author’s Note at the end of the book adds details to the story of Posada and his art.

Tonatiuh’s art is as unique and marvelous as ever. He uses his stylized characters, usually shown in profile. They have a wonderful folk-art feel to them and work very nicely with Posada’s own skeletons. His illustrations are a rich mix of collage and line drawings, mixing textures and colors very effectively.

A great book to share for Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, this will be a welcome addition to all public library collections, but particularly those serving Hispanic populations. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say

The Inker's Shadow by Allen Say

The Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say

Released September 29, 2015.

This companion book to the author’s Drawing from Memory continues the story of Say’s life. In this book, Say arrives in the United States as a teenager. His father had arranged for him to attend a military school where he would work to earn his keep. He was expected to learn English and prove that be could be a success. But Say was the only Japanese student at the school and soon racism had become an issue. His father helped kick him out of school and sent him on his way. Say managed to find a safe place to live as well as a school that would let him graduate along with his peers rather than moving him back to classes with much younger students. Say continued to work on his art in the United States and at this new school he gained the attention of several important people who arranged for him to attend art classes and art school at no charge.

This autobiographical picture book is an inspiring story of a teen given up by his father who discovers a way forward towards his dream. Say does not linger on the more painful moments in his story, allowing them to speak for themselves since they are profoundly saddening. His honesty in this book is captivating and allows readers to deeply relate to his story.

The Caldecott medalist paints landscapes from his past as well as providing multiple images of people he held dear. There are often both photographs and renderings of people in line drawings and full paintings. One gets to witness from this the skill of Say’s art as he perfectly captures these beloved people from his past.

A coming-of-age story that is bittersweet and imbued with hope for the future. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Scholastic and Edelweiss.

Review: The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle

Sky Painter by Margarita Engle

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici (InfoSoup)

Told in verse, this nonfiction picture book celebrates the life and work of Louis Fuertes. As a child, Louis loved watching birds and caring for them if they were injured. Even in his youth he started drawing and painting birds, despite the fact that his father wanted him to be an engineer. He kept drawing and painting in college, and learned to paint quickly and capture birds in action. At the time, the practice was to hunt the birds and then paint the dead bodies posed. Fuertes instead watched birds in life and painted them. Soon he was traveling the world to see different birds and paint them for museums, books and scientific record. Fuertes painted murals at the Natural History Museum and had a series of collectible cards with his paintings of birds on them. He helped make bird watching one of the most popular sports in the world by reinventing the way artists approached painting wildlife.

Engle speaks as Fuertes in her poems, giving him a voice to describe his own life and his own art. The book swirls like birds wings, moving from one colorful part of the world to another, delighting in the diversity of bird life everywhere. The format is rather like Fuertes’ work itself. She captures Fuertes in his real life, speaking as himself, traveling around the world, and then settling down to be the Bird Man in his old age. He is in his natural habitat throughout. Engle also captures the power of art and the importance of following the natural gifts you have.

The illustrations by Bereghici are bright with color and filled with birds. She labels each one, so that readers can learn about the different types of birds along the way. The book is filled with different habitats, even showing Fuertes underwater attempting to learn more about ducks so that he doesn’t have to shoot them. The illustrations of the birds are serious and detailed while there is often a playfulness to Fuertes’ image on the page.

A beautiful celebration of an artist who forever changed the way that birds and wildlife are painted. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The House That Jane Built by Tanya Lee Stone

House That Jane Built by Tanya Lee Stone

The House That Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Jane Addams was a girl born into comfort and wealth, but even as a child she noticed that not everyone lived like that. In a time when most women were not educated, Addams went to Seminary. When traveling with her friends in Europe she saw real poverty and then also saw a unique solution in London that she brought home with her. In Chicago, she started the first settlement house, a huge house that worked to help the poor right in the most destitute part of town. Hull House helped the poor find jobs and offered them resources. Addams also created a public bath which helped convince the city that more public baths were needed. She also found a way to have children play safely by creating the first public playground. Children were often home alone as their parents worked long hours, so she created before and after school programs for them to attend and even had evening classes for older students who had to work during the day. By the 1920s, Hull House as serving 9000 people a week! It had grown to several buildings and was the precursor to community centers.

Jane Addams was a remarkable woman. While this picture book biography looks specifically at Hull House, she also was active in the peace movement and labeled by the FBI as “the most dangerous woman in America.” In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She wrote hundreds of articles and eleven books, she worked for women’s suffrage, and was a founding member of both the ACLU and the NAACP. At the turn of the century she was one of the most famous women in the world. The beauty of her story is that she saw a need and met it with her own tenacity and resources. She asked others to contribute, but did not step back and just fund the efforts, instead keeping on working and living right in that part of Chicago. Her story is a message of hope and a tale of a life well lived in service to others.

Brown’s illustrations depict the neighborhood around Hull House in all of its gritty color. Laundry flies in the breeze, litter fills the alleys, and children are in patched clothes and often barefoot. Through both the illustrations and the text, readers will see the kindness of Jane Addams shining on the page. Her gentleness shows as does her determination to make a difference.

This biography is a glimpse of an incredible woman whose legacy lives on in the United States and will serve as inspiration for those children looking to make a difference in the world around them. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This autobiographical picture book is about a young boy growing up in the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans where music was a simple part of everyday life and was always in the air. Tony particularly loved the music and energy of Mardi Gras where he could see brass bands play every day. Troy first played an imaginary instrument and then found a broken trombone that didn’t sound perfect but at least it was something he could play. Troy started to teach himself to play the trombone, an instrument that was almost as tall as he was, which is how he got the nickname of Trombone Shorty. He even slept with his horn in his hands. When Troy gains the attention of Bo Diddley for his playing in the crowd at his concert, Trombone Shorty knows it’s time to form his own band. And he still has his own band today!

Andrews is a Grammy-nominated trombone player and runs the Trombone Shorty Foundation committed to preserving the musical heritage of New Orleans. Andrews writes like a master on these pages which read like music is in the air between them too, just like the air in New Orleans. He shows children how an inspiration to play an instrument can become a lifelong calling. He also shows exactly how music empowers people in a place, gives them strength, creates a united culture, and unifies them. It’s a narrative about the power of music.

Collier’s illustrations are strong and dynamic. He creates motion on the page with his collage illustrations with patterns and textures that weave together. His paintings are a zingy mix of softly rendered closeups filled with detail and personality and then images of people farther away that are rougher but add even more energy to the art.

An inspiring picture book filled with music and vivaciousness, this autobiography celebrates New Orleans and the music in its veins and in one boy specifically. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.