Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn (9781632172228)
Growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, Beverly spent her days on the family farm with animals for friends. She only had two books growing up, so she made up her own stories instead. When her mother got a children’s library created in Yamhill, Beverly finally had access to more stories. After moving to Portland, Beverly started school, determined to learn to read in class. Numbers were easy for her, but reading was hard. It didn’t help when she had to stay out of school for weeks due to smallpox. It wasn’t until the following year that she got a teacher who put in extra effort with Beverly to help her learn to read. Soon she was writing too and eventually became a librarian. When Beverly heard children asking for stories about kids like them, she was inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books!
Conrad has created an engaging biography where readers can see Cleary’s inspiration from her own childhood reflected in her books for children. The difficulty that Cleary had learning to read is shown in great detail, echoing the immense effort it took to learn. It is inspirational for children who may be having difficulty learning to read to see someone who eventually became one of the most famous children’s authors of all time having the same problems.
The art by Hohn is bright and friendly. The use of period clothing really helps place the book in the past visually and keeps the bright-eyed Beverly from feeling too modern. It also shows the great sense of humor that Cleary had throughout her life.
An inspiring story of triumph and achievement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781481472203)
Aaron Lansky’s grandmother came to America from Eastern Europe. She brought with her precious books in Yiddish, which her brother threw into the sea along with her other possessions as a sign they must break with the past. Aaron grew up firmly American in Massachusetts. When he went to college he began to study Jewish scholars and had to learn to read Yiddish to be able to read what he needed to. But Yiddish books and the language were in serious trouble in the 1960s after the impact of World War II. Aaron found himself rescuing Yiddish books from destruction. He filled his apartment with books and asked the leaders of Jewish organizations across the country to help save the books. But they believed that Yiddish was no longer worth saving. So Aaron created his own space in an old factory building that he named the Yiddish Book Center. As word spread, he continued to save books from destruction and meet with people who handed their beloved books over to him. The Center continues its work to this day, having saved Yiddish books from destruction for decades.
Macy writes with a wonderful tone in this nonfiction picture book. She shares the importance of what Lansky accomplished with his work but also has a playful approach that works particularly well. The insertion of Yiddish words in the text adds to this effect. The story of Aaron Lansky’s work is one of finding a personal passion and getting swept up in it. It is a story of hard work, resilience and determination in the face of even those who should care not finding your work valuable at first.
The illustrations by Innerst move from playful in depicting things like running in pajamas at night to save books to dramatic when looking back at the Holocaust. They are done in acrylic and gouache with textures added digitally. The images suit the subject well with a feel of modern design combined with connections to the past.
A fascinating biography of a little-known man who saved a written history of his people. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Mother Goose of Pudding Lane by Chris Raschka, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (9780763675233)
The story of the real Mother Goose frames a selection of her rhymes in this biographical picture book. The book begins by explaining that Mother Goose was actually Elizabeth Foster who married Isaac Goose in 1692. He was a widower with 10 children and the two had four more children together! So she was very like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. She raised this large family with her husband, filling the house with rhymes which are still shared in homes today.
The framework of Mother Goose’s own story is told in brief poetic lines that rhyme across the pages, forming their own nursery rhyme of sorts. The highlight here is seeing the nursery rhymes themselves, all returned to the more original versions that were a little rougher and reflected Mother Goose’s time period. It would have been good to have an author’s note with more details about her life as well as a bibliography.
Radunsky’s illustrations are funny and clever. They range from paintings to rougher pencil sketches that appear on the page together. The mix is dynamic and interesting, reflecting the mix of rhymes and story on the page.
Not your regular picture book biography, which makes it all the more interesting. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos (9781454932116)
This nonfiction picture book offers a guide to planning your dead pet’s backyard funeral. It is entirely practical, offering the first step as actually having something dead. With a mix of humor and heartfelt connection to grief and loss, the book offers real ideas for what to bury the creature in, what other items that creature might like in their grave with them, and even what sorts of stories to share at the funeral with everyone. The book ends with thoughts of visiting the grave when you need to and then feeling able to move on when it’s the right time for that.
The author offers real empathy for children who have lost a pet, making sure that they feel free to express their feelings along the way and share their experiences. However, she also creates humorous moments throughout the book to make sure that it never becomes oppressively sad or morose. It’s a very readable and remarkably enjoyable guide to funerals. The art by Ermos helps with the mix of light tone and dark subject too, giving glimpses of the skeletons under ground as well as the delight of flowers and ideas for animals too large to bury.
Funny and frank, this funeral guide is just what we all need. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan (9781419736179)
Celebrate the life of the person who became Mister Rogers, a beloved children’s television creator. As a child, Freddie was often sick and filled his days with puppets. He found it hard to make friends and was bullied sometimes. Freddie found that piano was a way he could express his feelings. His mother also told him to look for people around who were helpers, which made him feel safe and supported. His grandfather allowed Freddie to take risks as a child and know that he was adored. When Fred Rogers created his television show, he incorporated all of these childhood inspirations. His show had lots of helpers who shared their talents, talked about difficult subjects, and always told children that they were valued.
Reid draws clear parallels between Fred Rogers’ childhood experiences and the television show he eventually created. The use of his own childhood as inspiration resonates with the readers, allowing them to better understand the impetus behind the iconic show. Even his own talents with puppetry and piano which were highlighted on the show are shown as ways that he expressed himself in the darker times of growing up.
Phelan’s art is done in watercolor and pencil. Special small moments are created in the images such as Freddie Rogers wearing a cardigan or the simple images of Rogers on the television in a variety of situations.
A book that vibrantly captures one of the pioneers of children’s television. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9781524771874)
Released on September 24, 2019.
Tyrus Wong entered the United States by using papers that belonged to another Chinese boy. In 1919, Chinese people entering the U.S. had to prove that they were of high status. Tyrus and his father both traveled under other people’s identities, making him a paper son. He had to memorize details of the other boy’s life and village, knowing that he would be tested to see if his identity was real. When they reached immigration, his father was let through easily but Tyrus was held for weeks until he was finally released after being interrogated about his identity. Tyrus didn’t like school much and his father was often away for work. Tyrus loved art, studying both western and eastern art styles. After he graduated from art school, he worked for Disney Studios, doing painstaking work. Then he heard of a new movie, Bambi, that the studio was working on. He began to create backgrounds for the film and Walt Disney loved them. Fired from Disney after a worker’s strike, Tyrus continued to make art throughout the rest of his life.
Leung tells Wong’s story with a lovely clarity. From his entry into the country through his career, Wong’s tale is not linear but rather a series of opportunities that he seized upon. The beginning of the book shows a family trapped in the red tape of immigration and that harrowing experience blossoms into a book about art and opportunity to express one’s self. That again narrows when Wong finds himself doing grunt work for Disney Studios and once again opportunities appear to move him forward. Throughout there is a sense of grace and resilience when faced with real obstacles.
The art work is clearly done with Wong in mind, with its ethereal backgrounds. The images are powerful, often showing things from a unique perspective from a look at a line of people on a long pier to directly gazing into Wong’s window to looking down at an image painted with a mop. The result is dramatic and beautiful.
A picture book biography that celebrates a lesser-known artist whose work we have all seen. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781524720179)
This nonfiction picture book explores the inspiration behind Williams’ most famous poem as well as the life of the poet who wrote it. The book begins with Williams on his doctor’s rounds, noticing the red wheelbarrow that belonged to Mr. Thaddeus Marshall, who works harvesting and selling vegetables in Rutherford, New Jersey. Williams uses his spare time at work writing poems and noticing small things around him. He types between office visits and takes notes as he walks through the town. Then one glimpse out of a window on a rainy day created a moment that inspired one of the greatest poems.
Rogers writes a biography focused on Williams himself and on the inspiring white chickens and red wheelbarrow. She takes time to not only capture that iconic image once but several times on the page, showing how inspiration lingers and returns. She also makes sure to linger on how Williams works writing into his role as the town doctor and how he notices small things that inspire him.
The illustrations are done digitally and feel very organically with pencil and brush lines on each page. The colors are pastel and gentle, encouraging readers to look more closely and linger just as Williams himself was doing.
A nonfiction picture book about writing, poetry and life. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (9780823443314)
This book focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech but in a fresh and unique way. It looks at the difficulty of writing such an important speech to be delivered before such a huge crowd. It offers glimpses of King working with a group of advisors and speech writers to come up with the right approach. Then King heads off with only one other person and works all night on his speech. He stands in front of America and gives the speech of his life, the entire thing not coming together and offering him a place to land until he is encouraged to talk about the dream and he leaves his carefully written speech behind and flies.
Written almost as a poem, this picture book offers a look at how the historic speech came to be. It shows the night before the speech in 1963, the early morning hours of writing, and finally the afternoon before of still sculpting the words, the rhythms and the rhymes. And then, powerfully, it shows leaving that carefully written script behind and following the pastors of his family into glory.
Pinkney’s illustrations are so personal and filled with strength. Readers can look into the weary eyes of King as he continues to draft the speech despite not sleeping the night before. They can see the diverse crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. and almost hear the noise of it. They can certainly hear the echoes of King’s voice emerge from the images on the page as his voice soars.
Superb both in writing and illustration, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)
Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.
Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.
A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.