Category: Nonfiction

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.)

4 Diverse Biographies of Women

Here are four of my top picks for picture book biographies. They just happen to be about exceptional diverse women.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419725326)

When Amalia saw the dancers in her town square as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance but always remembered those folk dancers from her childhood. Amalia traveled throughout Mexico, watching the different folk dances in different regions. She used her dancing and choreography skills to turn those dances into performances for the stage. Founding her own dance company, she became known throughout the world.

Tonatiuh uses his signature illustration style that is a delightful mix of folk images and modern edge. The illustrations are a match for the topic, each strengthening the other. He writes of the large amount of work and dedication that Hernández had as well as the vision she carried through her entire life of folk dance and its importance. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (9780735842694)

This picture book biography focuses on Frida Kahlo’s lifelong relationship with animals. As a child she had a blue parrot, the color of the home she grew up in. She also had a fawn and a cat. But when Frida was six, she got very ill and had to stay in bed for a long time. Her illness caused one of her legs to be different from the other, but once she was better it didn’t slow her down at all. Frida also had an eagle, two monkeys, two turkeys and three dogs. Her animals had a place in their garden to play, designed by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband. As she painted, her animals stayed around her and appeared in her self portraits.

Brown uses the animals in Kahlo’s life to point out specific characteristics of her personality, each tied to a specific pet. This strengthens Kahlo’s already strong connection to her animals and makes it more clear for the reader as well. Parra’s illustrations are done on board. They have an appealing combination of organic feel, connection to nature and folk images. An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley received from Netgalley and NorthSouth Books.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781419725593)

This picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows her intelligence from childhood onward. With a mother who loved books and reading, Ruth was raised to go to college in a time when most women did not attend. Ruth’s mother passed away the day she graduated high school and never saw her daughter head to Cornell and then on to law school. Along the way, Ruth noticed all of the inequities around her, towards minorities and women. She experienced some of the directly: having her pay slashed when pregnant and being barred from the Law Library at Harvard because she was a woman. With the fight for equality for women, Ruth became the most important female attorney in the nation as she argued before the Supreme Court. Eventually, she would become the second female court justice and the author of some of the most powerful dissents in the Court’s history.

This picture book starts with Ruth’s childhood and the importance of her mother and also ends that way. Throughout it is a celebration of the power of women and the importance of their roles and their voices. Winter writes with a strong sense of history and shows both the possibilities there are in the world and also what hard work it takes to get there. The illustrations by Innerst have a quirky historical quality to them with watercolor but also a distinct modern twist as well. This is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country. Appropriate for ages 7-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (9781481446693)

Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid saw all of the natural features around her: rivers, marches, sand dunes, and more. As a child, she dreamed of creating her own cities. She designed her own clothes. In school in London, Hadid learned more about cities and architecture. She opened her own studio, designing buildings without corners that echoed the natural features of her homeland. Even after winning an architectural contest, her buildings don’t get built. But she refuses to change or stop designing. Eventually, her buildings gain attention and are built around the world. Her studio grows and gets busier. Even after she passes away, her ideas and designs and the work of her studio continue.

Winter has a gorgeous way with biographies, keeping them brief enough for even preschool audiences but detailed enough to intrigue and to speak to the individual and their life. Look in the back of the book for information on where her buildings are located in the world. The illustrations, also by Winters, capture the soaring spirit of Hadid’s designs and their unique vision. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane.)

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One (9780983661597, Amazon)

Roy Choi was born in Seoul, Korea and moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was two years old. His family owned restaurants and he grew up loving his mother’s cooking. When his family got successful, they moved into the suburbs where Roy didn’t fit in. He eventually found his way to being a chef and worked in prestigious kitchens until he lost his job. When a friend had the idea to open a food truck that served tacos, Roy agreed. Soon his food truck was a huge success. Still, Roy wanted to do more. He decided to open fast food restaurants in neighborhoods that needed them. Roy stayed in the neighborhoods where he felt most at home and where he was needed, and that’s exactly where you will find the very successful chef today.

This is the third book about chefs and food people by Martin. As with the previous two books, she captures the essence of this person with skill. Her prose is shown as poetry on the page and often reads that way too. Her take on things so succinct and focused, she uses only the necessary words to tell the story. Her collaborator, Lee dances poems on the page that have the feel of modern lyrics.

The illustrations are entirely unique. Done with backgrounds of spray-paint on large canvases that were then photographed, there is a wild energy to them. The play of music and food on the page is apparent, the graffiti inspired art ties to the urban setting and the poorer neighborhoods.

Strong and successful, this picture book captures a modern master of food. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year: Poem Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song (9781580897303, Amazon)

Six children, ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade, tell the stories of their first day of school. Each of them begins with the night before where readers will see that even children who are older worry about school and who their teacher will be. Arriving at school is busy and quick, though some have time to say hello to old teachers or to be the first to arrive and meet the class pet. They meet new teachers, say hello to old friends and make new ones too. Finally, they all head home to tell their families about their day, even if some aren’t home right away.

Derby writes in poems that wonderfully universal to the school experience. She moves this from being about starting kindergarten or starting a new school to a wider subject of returning to school and the fact that everyone feels similarly. Still, in making this a universal story, Derby makes sure to also speak to children of different backgrounds and races, children with different sizes of families and latchkey children.

Song’s illustrations highlight the individual children, moving with them through the day, each both a part of the overall school but also entirely themselves as well. The illustrations are simple and will work well shared with a class.

A great book to start the new school year with poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti's Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (9780892393756, Amazon)

This picture book in both Spanish and English verse tells the story of José Martí. Martí spent his entire life working to end slavery in Cuba after witnessing the brutality first hand. At the time, Spain ruled Cuba and a war of independence started in 1868. Martí wrote against the Spanish government and was jailed and put to hard labor. At 17-years-old he was sent away from Cuba. He continued to fight for Cuba’s independence and settled in New York. He would travel into the Catskill Mountains to see the nature that he missed from Cuba. Martí eventually returned to Cuba and helped fight in the battles against the Spanish, dying on the battlefield before freedom was realized. His words live on: it was his words and songs that helped drive the Cubans to fight for freedom and to continue fighting.

The verse contains excerpts from Martí’s works, allowing readers to read his words directly. The verse from the author and from Martí  work beautifully together, flowing into one river of words that tell the story of Cuban freedom. The afterword and author’s notes add information to the verse, giving more dates and information on the war for freedom in Cuba and on Martí’s life. This picture book biography takes a complex subject and makes it accessible for young readers, demonstrating how a young-person’s passion can ignite a nation.

The illustrations move from Cuba to New York to the Catskills, capturing scenes of daily life, lush greenery, and battles. There is a sense of energy to all of the illustrations, that matches that of the verse as it speaks to the drive that Martí had to speak out for Cuba’s independence.

A great picture book biography that adroitly pairs English and Spanish on the page. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Around the World in a Bathtub by Wade Bradford

Around the World in a Bathtub by Wade Bradford

Around the World in a Bathtub by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781580895446, Amazon)

This nonfiction picture book looks at various ways of bathing from around the world. Americans will be familiar with the first way, a bathtub with rubber duckies and a little one refusing to bathe. The book then moves to Japan with washing before entering the square tub to soak. People bathe from oldest to youngest. Turkey is next with bathhouses and scrubbing by attendants then a sauna with mud masks. Indians take baths in the river. Yup’ik families in Alaska sweat in a wooden cabin surrounded by snow. There are many ways and places to bathe around the world, but one thing holds constant across them all: children want to avoid baths!

Bradford uses information on bathing habits with touches of humor to lighten the book. Touches of each language are shown on the page from the names of the baths to the parents saying “yes” and the child saying “no”. The illustrations by Archer are oils and collage that create bright colorful scenes of the various places around the world. In all of them, there is an inviting feel and children escaping too. The images use the same humorous moments to enliven the book.

A bright and interesting look at baths, this is one worth submerging yourself into. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.