Tag: Authors

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.)

 

 

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.)

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.

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)

This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.

Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.

Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.

A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

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A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (InfoSoup)

The son of Polish immigrants, Ezra Jack Keats grew up in poverty in Brooklyn. Early in his life, Ezra followed his dream of being an artist. As an 8 year old, he earned money painting store signs. His father worried about this dream, but also helped by bringing home partially used paint from the artists at the cafe he worked at. Ezra was encouraged at school by teachers and at the library by librarians. Just as Ezra was about to leave for art school, his father died. He thought his artist dream was gone, but then during the Great Depression the New Deal emerged with The Art School League. It was then that he discovered what would be the beginning of The Snowy Day, but World War II would intervene before that dream could come true.

Pinkney’s poem sings on the page, telling the story of how an image can create real magic, just like the snow that inspired it too. She writes with real passion about poverty, the transformation that snow brings to poor neighborhoods, the delight of creation, the wonder of art and the long path it takes to bring a story to life sometimes. Pinkney’s words are magic, dashing and reacting along with the reader, swirling like snowflakes against your cheeks.

The illustrations by Fancher and Johnson are wonderful. Done in collage and paint, they capture Brooklyn as a clear setting and the hardship of Keats life enlivened by art. They then go on to inspire new thoughts of snowflakes and snow as they pay homage to The Snowy Day.

Perfect for fans of The Snowy Day, this picture book speaks to the power of art in one’s life and the way that one man’s dreams have inspired generations to dream too. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

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Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet (InfoSoup)

The life of E. B. White, author of several beloved children’s books, is shown here in a children’s biography from a two-time Caldecott Honor winner. White’s upbringing as a child with his summers spent on a lake in Maine shows the impact of childhood experiences. He won several writing awards as a teenager, knowing exactly what he wanted to do. His work for The New Yorker and other publications as a column author and poet is shown as well as Sweet spends much of the book on the author’s adult life. The strong connection he had with water, nature and Maine shines on the page just as it does in his work. Issues with Stuart Little being accepted in libraries and other moments of note are wonderfully portrayed in original wording of letters. A writer who lived away from the fame he was garnering, White continued to do farm work, sail his boats, and enjoy the simple life he adored.

Sweet has written a simply incredible biography. Her writing flows with that of White. Hers has a frankness and an honesty that is particularly important in biography. Sweet intersperses White’s writing throughout the book, sometimes in clippings from magazines or newspapers and other times clearly typed using a typewriter to get the right feel. Unlike many children’s biographies, Sweet depicts White’s childhood and then moves on to his work and his adult life. While his childhood informs his work, it is not the sole focus of the biography, which honors young readers will plenty of information on his full life.

Sweet’s illustrations are equally amazing. She uses physical items on the page, weathered wood, screws, rope, typewriter keys, and leaves. She incorporates photographs and then her own art as well, creating a world of found objects, drawn Wilburs and Templetons, photos and actual documents that is rich and wondrous. It is like opening a drawer and discovering a treasure trove, a book you want to curl up with and read just as you did those beloved childhood books.

In short, this is a masterpiece. A book with just the right tone, style and organic nature. Terrific! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

 

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett

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How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (InfoSoup)

How is a book made? Well this book was made in the regular way with an author making many drafts, and editor offering firm advice, an illustrator taking a long time to create the art, and it being printed halfway around the world. But it is also an amazing story and one that will surprise when the tiger keeps reappearing, the pirates raid the slow boat full of books, and the news that there is one last important piece to the book really being A BOOK. You will just have to read this book to see what that is.

Any book by Barnett and Rex is going to be wonderfully surprising and funny. This book is no exception. Barnett immediately makes sure that this book is not taken too seriously by starting it with him arm wrestling a tiger. The tiger then returns at important moments in the book, sometimes to be scared off and other times with a posse. The editor’s role is also depicted in the book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek but also honesty too. Throughout there is real information on how books get made with plenty of imagination added as well. Just like any book.

Rex’s illustrations are done with pencil on paper combined with photography. Some of the illustrations have cotton clouds and others are 3-d objects or 2-d objects photographed. This gives a great sense of space and distance, shadows lengthening across the page. Throughout the art is as clever as the words, which is a compliment to both.

A funny and imaginative look at the making of this book, both unique to this book and universal to the process. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.