Category: Nonfiction

3 Art-Filled Books for Children

Art Up Close From Ancient to Modern by Claire dHarcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d’Harcourt (9781616894214)

This large format picture book invites readers into a Where’s Waldo type exploration of art. Exploring over twenty works of art, children can search for over 200 details, asking them to look more closely at art than they may have before. Along the way, they will discover new details too. The back of the book provides more information on each piece of art as well as a clever lift-the-flap way to give answers. This book is gorgeously done, the images are crisp and large and span a vast number of years and cultures. A great introduction to art through a vehicle that children will find irresistible. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

Fallingwater The Building of Frank Lloyd Wrights Masterpiece by Marc Harshman

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781596437180)

This picture book focuses on just one on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, Fallingwater. It looks at the process that Wright used to design the building, from viewing the site itself to thinking for a very long time about what he would design. It was at the very last moment that Wright actually put the design on paper so that the owner of the site could see his vision. That vision came to life in Fallingwater, where you can hear the waterfall from every room in the house, stand outside on the balconies, and the floor feels like rocks in a streambed. All of these details will help children better understand the architectural process and how it begins with a vision and idea. The illustrations have a lovely vintage sepia tone and feel with the blue water of the site flowing from page to page, swirling and enlivening the images. A lovely and focused look at a famous architect’s work, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Vincent Can_t Sleep Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (9781101937105)

The duo that created The Noisy Paint Box, which won a Caldecott Honor, return with this look at the childhood and work of Van Gogh. The book focuses on the insomnia that plagued Van Gogh his entire life, even in his childhood when he would head outside in the middle of the night and go out into the heath to watch the stars. He spends much of his time at board school alone and working on his art. As a young man, he has problems working in his uncle’s gallery because of  his moods. The book shows him becoming a full-time artist and heading into the countrysides of Belgium and England. He is a man who understands darkness and night more profoundly than most. This picture book carefully captures the symptoms of Van Gogh’s mental illness, showing him struggling with mood and even hospitalized for a time. The book doesn’t dwell on this, but shows it as part of the complexity of the artist and his gifts. The illustrations are rich and layered, paying homage at times to Van Gogh’s work but at other times standing apart as a witness. Another strong artist biography from this pair that is worth the read and the space on your shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.

This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.

There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

This book on the Statue of Liberty could not be more timely for our world today. The book first looks at the French origins of the statue made to celebrate the centennial of the United States. From small renderings to large pieces of the full-sized statue, Bartholdi, the artist shipped the statue to New York City in 214 crates. Statue assembly in New York took 17 months. The copper statue was originally copper brown, but aged to the green lady we know today. The book then focuses on the statue’s right foot, a foot that is moving rather than standing still. This symbol of our nation welcoming refugees and immigrants from around the world is stepping forward, just as we must to welcome new people to our shores.

This book is a lovely cross between a picture book and a nonfiction read. Shaped as a book that is shorter and thicker than most picture books, it offers illustrations on all of the pages. The text length is welcoming for younger readers and will also work as a read aloud.

The book moves from being a factual read about the statue itself and how it was built and came to America. It transforms into a call for our nation to live up to that symbol, to step forward as well. It becomes something more than the facts, more than the details. It brings the statue and our values to life.

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

3 Picture Books Celebrating Nature

ABCs from Space by Adam Voiland

ABCs from Space: A Discovered Alphabet by Adam Voiland

Written by a science writer for the NASA Earth Observatory website, this alphabet book uniquely looks at satellite images of Earth to find letters. The author’s note at the beginning explains the difficulty in finding certain letters like R and B, because of the need for diagonal, straight and curved lines to be near one another. The book is visually stunning, turning from a brilliant green to subtle browns to oranges and reds. The end of the book identifies where the various letters were found and carries the reader even deeper into the images. A great way to mix science and letters together. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster.)

Animal Camouflage by Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson

Animal Camouflage by Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson (9781909767720)

As you can see from the cover, this picture book is illustrated in amazing cut-paper illustrations. The book offers information on animals throughout the world and is grouped by regions. After the information, readers get to try to find the animals in an intricate search and find page. Then they learn about more animals and search for them. This is a brilliant way to immerse children deeply in habitats and looking closely at the animals and plants of that area. A gorgeous search and find with a focus on animals and habitats. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

My Wounded Island by Jacques Pasquet

My Wounded Island by Jacques Pasquet  and Marion Arbona (9781459815650)

This is the story of Imarvaluk, a young girl who lives on a tiny island near the Arctic Circle. She is part of a strong community that continues to live the way their ancestors had. Still, things are changing. The weather is impacting their small island, shrinking the pack ice and flooding the island. Scientists try to help by studying the impact and new barriers are put up, but there is no stopping the monster of climate change as it ravages the Arctic. The little girl imagines it as a huge sea monster, coming to gobble them up. For now, their homes are being moved to the center of the island but eventually, they will have to decide if they will leave and lose their community.

Told with analogies that will help children understand the impact of climate change, this picture book makes a large concept much more concrete and real. The illustrations with the monster of climate change bring to life the feeling of powerlessness and how small humans are on the planet. This book can be used for units on climate change or the Arctic and Native Peoples. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

4 Artistic Picture Book Biographies

American Gothic The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood

American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood (9781419725333)

Woods is a child of Iowa, who drew pictures of his beloved area even as a child. He left Iowa to study art in Europe. He tried various styles while there, including cubism, impressionism and abstract art. But he found his voice when he saw Gothic art in a museum. He returned to Iowa and created his best-known work, American Gothic, using his sister and dentist as models. Wood writes with a storytellers tone as she writes of Wood’s exploration of art and his triumphant return and the birth of regionalism. MacDonald’s art is bright and celebrates the Iowa countryside with a vintage flair. A great introduction to an American artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Imagine That How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (9780375974298)

In 1954, children were having problems learning to move from knowing how to read a few words to being able to read a book. When Life Magazine covered the issue, they suggested that a new book be made by Dr. Seuss. Unable to use his signature made-up language and words, Dr. Seuss had to follow a strict vocabulary list instead. Luckily on that list were the words “cat” and “hat” and the author was inspired. He used easy rhymes and silly illustrations combined with dynamic storylines to get children to turn the pages. Soon Dr. Seuss was creating more beginning readers and publishing others by different authors. It was the birth of the popular early-readers for children and Cat in the Hat remains one of the best! This picture book is a fascinating look at the author’s process and the way that the challenge inspired him creatively. The illustrations combine classic Dr. Seuss elements with Hawkes’ own style. Young writers will be inspired by this look at Dr. Seuss. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Muddy the Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781481443494)

McKinley Morganfield was raised by his Grandma Della who called him Muddy. He was brought up with gospel music from church but loved other music more, the music heard at fish fries, the blues. But his grandmother didn’t approve and didn’t want Muddy to waste his time playing music. Muddy though could not stay away from music and saved money to get his own guitar. When not playing music, Muddy worked in the cotton fields until one day he walked out. He headed for Chicago, but no one there was interested in his country blues. People told him to change, but Muddy kept playing his style of music, steadily working towards a record and the fame that would eventually come after a lot of hard work. Mahin keeps the bounce of music in his prose, infusing it with lines from Muddy’s songs, repeating phrases about Muddy not listening to other people, and touches of rhythm. Turk’s illustrations are explosive. Done on black backgrounds, they are neon at night on the page and also show the rhythm and feel of music visually. A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Pocket Full of Colors The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781481461313)

Mary Blair collected colors as a child, filling her eyes and her world with the colors of her family’s move West across the desert and into California. At art school, she met her husband and the two painted together. Hired as one of the first women at Disney Studios, the men didn’t want to consider her bright colors. Walt Disney invited her on a trip to South America, where Mary discovered new bright colors. She continued to try to get her colors into films, sometimes accepted and other times not. Mary eventually left the studio to create children’s books, advertising and sets. Invited back to Disney for a special project, Mary accepted but only if she was going to be the one in charge. From that agreement came It’s a Small World, a ride still beloved at Disney Parks. The authors capture Blair’s love of color and her signature style that is on full display in her picture books and the amusement park ride. The illustrations dance with those colors, leaping from the page in a merry mix of colors that move from bright to subtle. A picture book that celebrates a leading lady in Disney. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)