Category: Nonfiction

3 New Biographies of Great Women

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James R. Ransome (9780823420476)

Told in reverse chronological order, this picture book biography of Harriet Tubman is stunning. The verse walks readers through her life, from her work with runaway slaves to her speeches as a suffragist. The book touches on other parts of her life that readers may not be aware of such as her work as a Union spy and a nurse. The book moves all the way back to Harriet saving her family from slavery and then her own time enslaved on a plantation when her father taught her about the woods and the stars, creating an opportunity for Harriet to become the amazing woman she was. The poetry of this book is beautiful and spare, it moves from one important moment in Harriet’s life to another, spooling out her life’s story. The illustrations by Ransome are beautiful, playing with light and dark. The images stop readers just to gaze when the page is turned as they capture one moment after another. An important and lovely book about Harriet Tubman that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (ARC provided by Holiday House.)

Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (9781454920007)

This picture book offers a friendly and approachable look at the life of Grace Hopper, one of the most important and influential computer geniuses of history. Even as a child Grace spent her time figuring out how things worked and designing devices. She attended Vassar College where she studied math and physics and also found adventures like going up in a plane. She attended graduate school in Yale, one of two women in her class. When World War II came, Grace wanted to help and tried to join the Navy. At first they would not accept her, but after a year she convinced them. She wrote programs for the first computers, coining the term “computer bug” when a moth flew in and stopped the computer from working. She created the way that computers can be programmed using language rather than 1s and zeroes.

Wallmark also shares a timeline of Hopper’s life at the end of the book that shows even more of her accomplishments over her long career. She also makes sure to share Hopper’s personal verve for life and her approach to creativity, moving the book away from what could have been too distant and factual into one that children can relate to easily. Wu’s illustrations capture that feeling as well, showing Hopper hard at work and yet enjoying daredevil time and teamwork. A great picture book biography that will add a lot to STEM collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nina Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance (9781580898270)

This picture book is a completely engrossing look at the life of Nina Simone. Done in a way that welcomes even small children to hear her story, the book opens with a greeting and a lullaby. Using piano keys as an allegory for race, the book looks at the keys through the eyes of a young Nina, who notices that white keys are whole notes while black keys are half notes. She sees something similar in society as well. Nina used music as a way to unite and to protest. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., her music spoke to people of all color and united them. While the story follows a linear path in time, the information shared focuses on important events in Nina’s life rather than feeling like a chronological list of accomplishments or dates. Instead readers get to see what influenced her and how she grew into her voice as an activist. The illustrations are particularly compelling. Done in black and white, the image of people who arranged as piano keys and the one of dandelion seeds floating downward are particularly compelling. Smart and beautifully designed. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Write to Me by Cynthia Grady

Write to Me by Cynthia Grady

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Amiko Hirao (9781580896887)

This nonfiction picture book tells the true story of a librarian who stayed in touch with the children she served even after they were moved forcibly away. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were sent to prison camps. As a librarian in San Diego, Clara Breed served many children of Japanese descent. Before the children left, she gave them books and postcards to correspond with her. While they were gone, she continued to send them small things, even visiting once and delivering boxes of books. The children wrote to her during the three years they were gone as she offered them a way to stay connected to the outside world.

This book shows the Japanese internment in a way that children will understand. The letters shared in the book are excerpts from actual children’s letters written to Miss Breed during this time. They reflect the different ages of the children, their focus on everyday moments and their strong connection to books and their librarian. It is a book that shows how importance and life changing kindness is.

The illustrations  are done in pencil on paper and have a softness and glow to them. They do not shrink from showing the desolation of the internment camps and the sorrow and fear of those being placed in them.

A very timely nonfiction book that will show young readers a horrific point in American history and how just one person can make a difference. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Charlesbridge and Edelweiss.

2017 Top Nonfiction Books for Children and Teens

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need.

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)

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.

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761)

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole.

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)

A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

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

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.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

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

An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous.

lets-clap-jump-sing-and-shout-by-patricia-c-mckissack

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780375870880)

This book is almost an encyclopedia of games and songs. Page after page will have readers humming along, singing aloud and looking for a partner to play a newfound or best-loved game.

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)

A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that.

A New School Year by Sally Derby

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

A great book to start the new school year with poetry.

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780763680947)

This book belongs in every elementary school collection and every public library. It is extraordinary.

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 is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master.

This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe (9781452150185)

Wonderful for classrooms and libraries, this nonfiction picture book is exceptional.

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)

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.

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.